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.