Sunday, 1 March 2009

Final thoughts on blogging....

Until the beginning of the course the concept of blogging was fairly alien to me, and it wasn't something I ever thought I would use. As I said in my first blog, I wasn't sure who would be interested in what I had to say, however now I have realised that what I was writing was for me, a reflective tool for me to discuss my progress and thoughts over the course of the sessions.

Keeping this blog made me reflect on what I was learning, which I think I would have done anyway, but it made me consider what I had learnt it the wider context of school, the curriculum and my professional development. Writing my thoughts down made what I was thinking much more definite and concrete, and allowed me to consider both sides of arguments before deciding where I stood on an issue.

This blog also acts as a tool to record all ICT I have seen and used, and what I would like to use in my future practice, and has also made me more aware of the use of blogs within the classroom setting, and how they could be incorporated into a range of lessons.However I do feel that blogs are something I would use with the children in my classroom, rather than continuing to reflect on my own use as I feel that this has more purpose.

Looking back over what I have written I have also been able to track my own progress, and highlight areas which still require improvement. I feel much more confident about using ICT in my teaching, and now that I have discovered that its not as scary as I thought, I will definitely be more willing to try new things to ensure that my lessons are interesting and engaging.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

An evaluation of the ICT in my first school based training placement

Having spent six weeks on placement in a year four classroom, I feel I have had much more of an insight into the attitudes towards, and the provision and use of, ICT within primary education.

The quality of provision within the school I was placed in was fairly high as each classroom had an interactive whiteboard, and the class teacher was provided with a laptop. There was a computer room with approximately 20 laptops, and also a laptop trolley with 20 laptops which could have been moved to individual classes so that the children could work from their classrooms, using the wireless internet provided. There was also usually a classroom PC and each classroom had a good supply of calculators. However I didn’t see any roamers or other programmable devices in use, but that is not to say the school didn’t have them, perhaps they just weren’t making use of them.

I feel that the children in my class were exposed to a range of ICT resources and different situations in which to use them. The most common use of ICT in my class was to take the children to the ICT room to explore different websites related to their current topic or theme, which gave the children the freedom to look at what they want, however it didn’t always give them structure and a purpose when using the internet. A large number of the school laptops had 2Simple software downloaded onto them, which was a package that the children really enjoyed using as it is very child-friendly and allowed them to do things that, on other packages, may have been too difficult. I saw 2Simple used for typing practise, art work and graph creation, and produced excellent results as the level was very appropriate for the children in my class. I also saw the internet being used for research which encouraged the children to think of key words, and then once information was found they had to be critical of the source and consider the validity of what they had found - an invaluable skill.

Sometimes it may have been the case that the computers were used to type up work that had been written, however I feel that perhaps the computers should have been used from the start of the writing process? This should definitely have been the case for a number of children because as a class their written work was very poor and many were reluctant to write, so perhaps using the computers from the start may have increased their enthusiasm for writing? I feel that this would probably have been the case as the computers were still considered to be a ‘treat’ by the children, as although lots of them have computers at home, not all have access, and so were used quite successfully as a behaviour management technique. It is worth questioning, however, that once the children are used to the computers and they are no longer a treat, can they still be used as a means of engaging the children? If ICT is used a lot more regularly will their influence upon the children wane? I should also highlight the fact that the handwriting of most of the children in the class was appalling, and although handwriting will have less importance in their futures due to ICT, it is still an important skill, and so would the increased use of computers have a detrimental impact upon their already poor handwriting?

My CTM used her IWB on a daily basis very successfully, and always used her board in the desired ‘interactive’ manner, and not merely as a projector as other teachers in the school.I saw the board being used very well during maths lessons, as all children were involved and coming up to the board to share ideas. The chance that the children might have been asked to come up usually meant that they were all listening and behaving so that they might be chosen next – another behaviour management technique! The IWB is also an excellent tool for displaying concepts and ideas visually, which meant that more children were able to access and engage with the lesson, and I saw it used to great effect when using number lines to answer mathematical problems. My particular class also loved to be timed for everything, and so often my CTM would use an ITP and display a huge digital clock. When I first started my placement I was quite nervous about using the IWB as we had only had one session at university to familiarise ourselves with the boards, and I was worried that my lack of knowledge and confidence would impact upon the lessons I taught. I was also worried that I wouldn’t use the board in the same way that my CTM uses it, resulting in the children not understanding or engaging with the lesson.
However, I used the board during every lesson I taught, even if it was only to display the WALT and WILF to the children, and felt my confidence in using it start to grow. During my first ever lesson I used the board for almost every aspect of my lesson, and found that it wasn’t as difficult as I had originally thought, however I did keep forgetting to put the pen down when I wanted to close or open a window, something the children constantly reminded me about!

I feel that my most ambitious use of the IWB so far has been during a maths lesson in which I used an ITP, the standard Smart Board and also pre-recorded clips of myself demonstrating how I wanted the children to tackle specific division problems. This clip worked really well, however I think some children were too busy trying to work out how I had done it, rather than watching the demonstration itself!
I do feel that sometimes I focused too much on using the IWB and asking children to come up to the front, as often they took a long time, and not enough children were involved in the input – sometimes I think it is just a better idea to get them working on their individual whiteboards so that they are all involved and engaged in the lesson without always feeling that ICT has to be included in every aspect of what I'm teaching.

I also co-ordinated the class use of the laptop trolley which worked well, and I found it was easier to teach the children and gain their attention because the layout of the classroom is very different to that of the computer room where all children had their backs to you. The only thing I found with the trolley is that if the laptops aren’t put away properly then the laptops may not be fully charged, and this impacts upon the success of the lesson and the amount achieved in the time allowed. The session I did teach in the computer room went well, however the different dynamic, layout of the room and excitement of using the computers meant that behaviour management was much more difficult to implement.
The experience in the computer room also saw me experience the 'immigrants'/'natives' phenomena as there were some questions posed for which I didn't always have the answer, however the children were always keen to help each other, and could usually answer each others questions, which taught me a lot! I liked the fact that during this session, the children not only learnt from me, but I also learnt from them.

I feel that the IWB was the most important aspect of ICT that I came across on this placement as it was something I used every day and is an integral part of that particular classroom. I was also able to see both sides of the IWB debate as I experienced the pros and cons of this technology first hand. Like my CTM I found the board really useful in demonstrating concepts, and providing a visual stimulus, and feel that if used imaginatively it can really impact upon the children's learning. However, I also experienced the frustrations that many teachers feel as the board needed constant configuring and so often writing became illegible, which in turn slowed down the lesson instead of saving time.I was also unable to open and close things on the board due to the need to reconfigure, and had to turn around and do it on the laptop itself which affects the flow of the lesson and means that I often turned my back to the children when they were on the carpet.

Many teachers in my school were also annoyed with the placing of the IWBs in their rooms as they had been fixed on top of their original whiteboards, dramatically reducing the amount of whiteboard space. I found this quite frustrating too, as if there was a note or key vocab that I wanted to display, I couldn't always just jot it down on the whiteboard as there was no room. I feel that this may have impacted upon the teachers in my school, as now that the number of resources available to them have been reduced they have become too dependent upon their IWBs, and one teacher confessed that if her board stopped working she didn't know what she would do!

Despite this I feel that overall my confidence has increased, however using the IWB is still one of my areas for improvement as I don’t feel I am fully aware of its potential and need to spend some time trying different things and not being afraid to experiment. I also feel that I need to improve my personal knowledge of roamers as I wasn't able to use them on this placement, and feel that they could be a valuable resource in my future practice.

This placement really opened my eyes to the potential of ICT within schools, not only through the well taught lessons I did see, but also through things that I didn't see. I often saw opportunities for using ICT which weren't always utilised by my CTM and I feel that this experience has made me view ICT in a very different way, as a cross-curricular tool, which can impact upon all aspects of the curriculum, rather than a discrete lesson taught in a computer room.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The effectiveness of interactive whiteboards in the primary classroom

The importance placed upon ICT in schools has risen dramatically in the past ten years, and this has been reflected in the increased provision seen in the majority of schools as a result of high government expenditure. However organisations such as Becta, the governments adviser on ICT in schools, claim that despite the £1 billion that was spent on state of the art technology last year, 80% of schools are failing to use it effectively (Woolcock, 2008). Becta claims that this is because teachers are intimidated by the new technology and find it difficult to manage, and point out that children are often much more confident in using them than teachers.

From a personal perspective, until our session on Monday, I too found the thought of having to use the interactive whiteboard (IWB) to be very daunting, as although I feel I am fairly competent at ICT, I have not used a board before, and am aware that children's knowledge is often greater than mine! The session introduced a range of applications that can be performed using the IWB, and then allowed us to have hands on experience on using them ourselves, which I found to be very useful. However, I feel it may have been more effective if we were given a task to complete using the board, as it felt a bit like we were just playing, and I still don't feel entirely confident in being able to create effective resources using it. Despite this, whilst exploring the IWB, we found a number of really useful applications, and also online resources which can be used in class, and the potential of the IWB was revealed to me. The cross curricular potential is huge, as for every subject we found resources on the internet, which again highlights the ways in which ICT can be taught throughout all curricular areas and not just as a discrete subject.

After the session I feel that my knowledge and confidence in using IWBs is something that I need to build upon, as during my time in school it was an invaluable resource that the teacher used regularly on a daily basis to great effect. The class is particularly competitive and like to time themselves doing anything, be it times tables, literacy loops, even the register! Therefore the teacher often put a timer up on the board, so that the whole class was able to see the time, which led to children helping and encouraging those who were struggling to ensure that as a class they beat their previous record. This really emphasised team spirit within the class and it was brilliant to be able to watch this. The IWB was also used for literacy and maths, as the teacher used them to explain concepts in ways I had not seen before and the children could all understand. However the children did not often 'interact' with the board itself, therefore I am not sure about the name 'interactive' as although there are opportunities for children to write on the board etc, I feel that it is mainly used as a teachers tool, and so the children aren't necessarily interacting with the board, but hopefully the lesson!

I feel that as with all cutting edge technologies, IWBs have been hyped up within the media and their potential really emphasised. I'm not saying that they aren't an effective teaching tool, I feel that they can have a huge impact upon teaching and learning, however I feel that if their full potential is to be reached then more training should be provided, as these tools will only be as effective and inspirational as the person using them.

'Technophobe teachers wasting millions' (Woolcock, 2008) found on the Timesonline website.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Sketch Up

On Wednesday last week I attended the first part of a course run by Southampton's Solent Centre called 'A Vision for the Built Environment as a Teaching Resource'. As a geography graduate I was excited about the possibilities this could bring to my teaching in the future, and found the session to be hugely thought provoking and relevant. It highlighted the many ways in which the built environment can be used as a resource for every subject within the curriculum, and the cross curricular potential it creates.

The course was predominantly run by architects, who introduced us to a range of ICT resources that we could use within the classroom, that would help the children access and relate to the built environment around them. They discussed the values of Google Earth, for example being able to view a building or an environment without even having to leave the classroom! In the same vein they discussed virtual tours of museums etc which I hadn't previously considered as a valuable tool in the classroom. Although it should be pointed out that a virtual tour cannot better a real life experience, it should definitely be considered when actually visiting may be too expensive, or not a viable option. We were also told about a new programme being developed by Google, in which they are filming every street in the country so that in theory you can 'visit' somewhere and walk around the area to view it - the potential for use in the classroom is huge!

Finally we were introduced to a software package called Google Sketch Up, which is a 3D modelling programme that they themselves use as architects. However they emphasised the ease of use, and claimed that when they have worked with children using it, the children have generally picked up the basics and are able to use it within about 20 minutes! The architects claimed that children were able to produce impressive designs within a very short period of time, and were much more able to visualise their designs when they had been created in 3D form in front of them. This package is something I feel I would like to learn about, and incorporate into my teaching as its potential for engaging children in the world around them is huge.

The first part of this course opened my eyes to the importance of using ICT within the primary classroom, and its huge potential within my own subject area. This session really motivated me, and I now want to develop my ICT knowledge much further to ensure that I provide the children in my class with a wide range of opportunities and experiences.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

The changing nature of literacy in the 21st century

Over the past ten years the concept of 'literacy' has changed very rapidly, not only in schools, but throughout society. The increasing access to information and communication technology has revolutionised the way in which we interact with texts, something that was previously considered to be just the written form, but can now be described as 'a unit of communication that may take the form of something written down but also a chunk of discourse e.g. speech, a conversation, a radio programme, a TV advert, text messaging, a photo in a newspaper...' (Evans, 2004,p.10)

Outside of school children interact with these 'multimodal' texts on a daily basis, however I feel that when in school children interpret literacy and texts as purely books and reading. They do not consider reading their emails, or reading the instructions for a computer game to be literacy, and so when many children are asked if they enjoy reading they say no, as for them reading is the book scheme at school, and Evans believes that this is because we do not integrate children's interests often enough into the teaching and learning process.

I feel that Evans certainly makes a good point, as the interests and skills of young people are not being considered in literacy planning, and I feel that this is a wasted opportunity to engage them in literacy in a way that they find fun and accessible. I believe that more should be done in schools to imbed ICT in the literacy hour, as I have witnessed myself the impact it can have.
However I do feel that the increase of ICT, should not be to the detriment of the written word, but support and modernise the way in which it is taught. ICT should excite children and make them more passionate about reading, not make them less likely to read and enjoy a book. Evans found through research that the out of school interests of many young children were mainly ICT based, which is not surprising. What is surprising and worrying is that of the children asked (90 +) only one chose reading a book as an interest, and only two chose imaginary play or outdoor activities. So has the increase of ICT outside of the classroom had a detrimental effect upon the way in which children view reading and using their imaginations? Would this same effect occur if the use of ICT was increased in the classroom?This is a side-effect of ICT which concerns me, however I cannot deny the power it has in engaging children, therefore I feel that the power of ICT should be harnessed and utilised in schools through meaningful activites, but crucially its implementation should enhance and improve children's love of books and reading, not replace it.

Evans, J. (2004) (Ed.) 'Literacy Moves On: using popular culture, new technologies and critical literacy in the primary classroom.'

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Prensky's 'Digital Natives,Digital Immigrants'...An accurate view of the role of ICT in education?

Marc Prensky wrote two controversial articles in 2001, which discussed the use and provision of ICT in primary schools. Prensky claimed that our current education system needs to be brought into the 21st century, as it does not fully cater for our children's needs. He claims that in our modern society children are constantly surrounded by information communication technology (ICT) such as computers, the internet, games consoles and mobile phones, yet this societal trend is not reflected within the school environment. He also claims that this lack of ICT within schools may have led to the poor numeracy and literacy statistics of those leaving primary education, and that its introduction has the potential to revolutionise the education experience of children today.

Having read the Prensky articles at the beginning of the course I was intrigued to see the ICT provision in my first placement school during our serial week, and whether Prensky's views would apply. In his article 'Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants', Prensky highlights children's increasing access to ICT in our society, which I witnessed in my class, as the majority have a computer and access to the internet at home, many had their own mobile phone and most were extremely competent (often more so than me!)when using the computers.
He also claims that the curriculum and 'immigrants' should change in order to aid the children's learning, which I think is something that is starting to filter into schools, as the class teacher seemed very competent in using computers, and the interactive whiteboard, something which was not available a few years ago. The interactive whiteboard was used to great success in engaging the children as they all wanted a chance to write something on the board, and the interactive nature of the lessons seemed to really appeal to the children. ICT was also used daily for the whole school as part of a reading scheme which used voice recognition to monitor and assess children's reading and comprehension skills. This computer programme has had a huge influence on the reading abilities of the children using it, with many of them increasing their reading age by a number of months, in just a few weeks. It also reduces the pressure on members of staff in the room to listen to every child read, as the programme recognises when a child has read something incorrectly and will ask the child to say it again, and repeat the correct pronunciation if required. I do feel that this programme has a huge potential to impact upon children's reading, however I still believe that there is no substitute for sitting down and sharing the experience of a book with another person, rather than reading to a computer screen.
ICT, however, was not available to the extent that Prensky advocates, and I feel that an increase in ICT provision in primary schools would have a positive impact, however Prensky argues it should be used in every aspect of teaching and learning, something I feel that might be impractical in the classroom setting.

Prensky also argued that computer games can have a very positive impact upon the way children learn in schools, and I did witness evidence of this, for example through the reading scheme. However Prensky claims that all learning should be fun, which in theory it should be, but children also need to be made aware of the 'real' world, and the fact that not everything you do in life is fun! I also wondered about the health implications of an increase in the use of computers, will this only increase the percentages of obesity in this country?
I would also like to highlight the fact that Prensky claims that 'linear thought processes retard learning'.....what about reading a book?!

On reflection of my time in school, I feel that Prensky has highlighted a hugely important, current and relevant argument as children today are much more ICT literate than older generations, and are much more capable of using and engaging with ICT, and should be given the opportunities to do so. This is important to remember as education is supposed to provide children with the skills to succeed now, and in their adult life, and as ICT shapes the future children should be prepared for its influence. However I do still feel that some of Prensky's views are somewhat idealistic, and he provides no real approach or method of how to implement his ideas in the modern classroom.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008


Having set up my blog I was fairly cynical about them as I had never written one before, don't like to keep a diary, and I know that blogs tend to have a much more personal touch than newspapers or articles. However having read a variety of blogs from all over the world I now appreciate their value a bit more. I hadn't previously considered blogs in terms of political commentary and thought that they were usually written by people inanely commenting on their lives, but I now see that they can give valuable insight into political situations as they are written first hand, as things are happenning and in the voice of someone actually affected by the situation.
I found a particularly good blog written by a soldier in Afghanistan, written in his own words, which made it much easier to relate to what he was saying and appreciate the situation.
The class I will be working woth for SBT1 have recently set up their own class blog, so I will be interested to see what they write, and how they respond to writing it, and whether or not it improves their ICT knowledge and confidence.