After their local authority was approached by a leading tech firm Carlton Primary, London, agreed to partner with the company on a digital classroom project that has since led to the school changing the course of their ICT development. ICT co-ordinator Ted Glover explains how the project started and the benefits it’s had on pupil engagement and problem-solving skills
For schools thinking of partnering with commercial companies the advantages must always outweigh the disadvantages. A new project offering improved attainment scores will seem too good to be true and, in the case of ICT, any disruption to networks will hinder pupil progress rather than augment it. However, as Ted Glover, ICT co-ordinator at Carlton Primary, explains, partnering with a leading technology firm is to be valued – and can have a significant bearing on the future ambitions of a school’s ICT portfolio.
When did you originally get involved in the collaborative ICT project?
I’ve been involved from the beginning. In the first year I was the leader of the project and the last two years I’ve spent in the classroom using the digital classroom itself. The technology firm approached our local authority – Camden – and they then approached us. I’m not sure exactly the background there, but I do know it was an offer rather than the school applying for something, which is unusual in the sense that schools are not often approached by commercial companies. Of course, there are funding opportunities available for different projects – for computing or creating an outdoor space, for example – but they’re normally applied for; I’ve been in charge of ICT for a while and it’s not happened here before.
What resources did the school receive for taking part in the project and what areas of teaching and learning did you specifically focus on?
Thirty tablets in a trolley, an interactive whiteboard and a number of laptops for teachers, a printer and five digital cameras. In the second year we were given an additional 10 Chromebooks. We looked at concepts such as engagement and motivation and, once we had the Chromebooks, we thought more about how that technology could be used for collaborative learning. The project certainly informed how we work as a whole school; for example, a collection of apps for education has now been adopted across the school – we wouldn’t have done that but for involvement in the digital classroom project.
Any class that goes through the digital classroom is always high-attaining and that carries on elsewhere. We complete regular assessments too.
How do you, typically, examine whether your ICT products are meeting the needs of pupils?
What we try to do is to move away from how children use a piece of equipment, or even a piece of software and, instead, think of the skills and learning that they are going to get out of it. Once the computer curriculum came in it almost forced us to separate computing from the digital literacy side of things – writing a letter for history is obviously quite different to programming, for example. So, we started off with laptops, buying three trolleys of 15.
As a result of this project we have moved to a fully-integrated, cloud-based system and have just bought 60 new Chromebooks so that everyone can engage with classroom apps more and more. We also received training as part of this digital classroom project so it’s also worthwhile passing that on in the classroom where possible. Our priority continues to focus on how devices are used and their impact – not on having shiny new equipment for the sake of it.
In terms of digital development, how have classrooms changed recently?
A few years ago the focus was on apps to practice maths skills, for example, and I think we are now gravitating toward more real-world stuff. For example, using a tech-simulated eco-system is super because it’s what’s used in real life; although it’s an education version, it’s important to have. In terms of coding, trying to get the teachers on board is equally important. We have quite a lot of technology companies moving in around us, so it’s important to make kids aware of who these companies are and what they do.
Do you have any future plans to get involved in a similar project to this one?
We’ve attempted to make a few contacts around us. We recently had a company visit the school after I got in touch when I saw a video of theirs showing a programmable toy. They did some filming for their website.
We have also just completed our STEM week with an organisation called Inspire which involved every year group being given a topic to work on. The five days of STEM week are all about using science and technology, applying various concepts to real life and learning about jobs, for example. The kids get a lot out of it and further down the line children will benefit because we know we’re providing them with skills that the companies around us are looking for, the kind of jobs that require a science, technology and engineering background.
After changing your ICT vision have you noticed any difference in how pupils learn?
We’ve moved away from children learning how to use software packages to problem-solving skills and using algorithms, critical thinking, etc. Breaking things down into small steps is always worthwhile and I try to ensure teachers are clear about why they are doing certain things and about the skills they are teaching.