How one School Transformed Learning through Technology @t4stweets

Around 12 years ago we adopted Alistair Smith’s accelerated learning cycle.  At the time we made the decision to collapse Wednesday afternoons for students to facilitate over two hours of regular CPD time for staff.  During this time there was an expectation that staff would collaborate on lesson plans and that these would be written in a consistent format (following the accelerated learning cycle) and placed online on our intranet.

We soon realised how powerful this was in terms of the impact it was having on our lessons and invested heavily in 3 web designers to help support staff in producing the highest quality lessons and resources possible.

Over the years the role of our web design team morphed with more and more bespoke whole school tools being produced.  Technology moved from simply being in the hands of teachers to being in the hands of all students.  A new building (our Junior Learning Village) allowed us to place two PCs on each student desk (circular desks for collaborative work) in large open plan classrooms.

As technology moved on we realised that in our flexible physical learning spaces we also needed flexible technology.  Against popular opinion on the time we opted for Galaxy tablets rather than iPads. This took our use of technology to the next level providing access to our online tools 24/7 whether in school or at home.  Implementing Frog as our VLE also allowed us to take advantage of the access our staff and students had to technology.

Financing technology

Having had success with our Galaxy tablets we found ourselves in a similar position to everyone else across the country.  Budgets have been squeezed and money for technology is simply not as readily available as it was in the past.  This left us in a position where our  level of ICT provision was simply not sustainable in its existing form.  However, our use of technology was so ingrained into the ethos of the school we simply had to find a way to keep (if not increase) access.

Luckily around 3 years ago Chromebooks and Google Apps reached both a level of maturity and a price point which made them the perfect solution.  We now run a parental contribution scheme whereby parents contribute a voluntary donation (through the e-Learning foundation) or £10 per month over 2 years.  This allows us to provide students with a Chromebook, 3 year warranty and insurance, protective case and Chrome license.

Whilst we have some demand for specialist software (mainly in Media, Music, Technology and ICT) we quickly realised that online tools could ‘completely and comprehensively’ replace what we used ICT for in most subjects across the school.

Implementation of technology strategy

To ensure that this strategy worked, and could be effectively implemented, we focused on the following:

  • Staff training
    This was and is essential. All staff were given their own Chromebook and training was built into a two and a half day staff conference (with plenty of follow up).  We hold regular ‘Chrome meets’ where staff share ideas.
  • Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)
    Our VLE and all of our tools were adapted so they would work fully through a browser.  We developed a new lesson planning tool to allow staff to develop lessons and resources online.
  • Online home learning system and planner
    We developed our own online home learning system and planner.  Parents are contributing heavily towards our scheme.  It is important that they can see the impact of the Chromebooks at home. Engaging parents through these systems and our existing parental portal (VLE for parents) helps parents to see the value of the contributions they are making. Without these, the scheme would quickly fall apart.
  • Learning toolkits
    These are toolkits we developed in house to support students with literacy, numeracy, thinking skills and learning tools.  Our aim is to help students become more independent in their learning and to access these tools at point of need as they work.  These tools also help to develop a common language for learning across the school.
  • My Classes
    This is another tool developed ‘in house’ and is the pride and joy of our VLE.  My classes is everything a ‘class’ and their teacher need.  For their teacher it pulls all relevant information into a single place about their class.  They access all data, SEN information, reading ages, medical information, review data, students’ hopes and dreams, career aspirations, rewards, etc.

The ‘My Classes’ area backs up a number of whole school policies.  We ask all staff to have a seating plan for each class. On ‘My Classes’ there are photos of each student with links to information about each. These are’ draggable’ around a virtual classroom. Another policy is ‘hands down questioning’.  This encourages all students to be ready to answer questions and to think during lessons.  Our random name generator which pulls names directly from the MIS allows teachers to pick students at random.

We have cherry picked the best online tools and have recreated them in My classes all in one place. Instead of Edmodo we build our own class blogs (each class has their own automatically generated), instead of poll everywhere we built VOX and Class Poll.  These are just brief snippets of what we have made available to staff and students.  We could not function without everything that My Classes now offers us.

 1:1 learning in practice

How our students learn has been radically transformed by our technology strategy. Here are some the ways this has happened:

  • Flipped learning
    This is such an obvious thing to introduce when you have access to 1:1 ICT and it is changing the emphasis in lessons.  More responsibility is placed on the learner to come prepared and richer conversations can take place during lessons.
  • Collaborative learning
    The collaborative nature of Google Apps has had a big impact. Not only can students collaborate more easily but feedback is enhanced exponentially.  The ability for staff (or peers) to see ‘live’ work and comment on it at any time is really increasing the quality of student work when produced electronically.  We constantly see students making improvements to their work over weekends, on evenings, during breaks and lunches.  They value the speed at which they receive their feedback.
  • Individualised learning
    In many subjects we use marking and feedback to automatically create flight paths for individual students.  Resources are made available to them to help them move on in their learning and completely personalised paths are available to them.

Here some students talk about their experiences of learning using their Chromebooks:

Financial benefits of 1:1 

In addition to the learning benefits our current strategy brings us, the financial benefits have been plentiful:

  • We are now running 1:1 provision at less than half the cost we were previously providing 1:2, plus we are extending that access to the home.
  • Our licensing costs are dropping dramatically as are our printing costs.
  • We have reduced our electricity bill as we are maintaining far less desktop machines.
  • Our IT support team are able to keep on top of the specialist suites which remain far more easily and all staff and students have ‘unlimited’ storage in the cloud.

Written by Phil Spoors, Assistant Head Teacher at Cramlington Learning Village. The original blog can be found by clicking here.

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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