Making the most of ICT to teach & inspire pupils
When I think back to my experiences of ICT at primary school, the resounding memories are using the school’s single boxy computer to write my initials by programming a little turtle, and then a few years later getting every single question wrong on that bizarre Encarta quiz. In comparison, the opportunities available to pupils in our classrooms today are absolutely mind-blowing. Although I very much feel like I’m hitting that age where new technology isn’t quite so easy to figure out any more, I have managed to gather up a bunch of easy ideas over the years to enhance my teaching, all tried and tested!
Communicating with the World
Skype and Facetime have made it possible to invite guests to the classroom without them having to even enter the building, and they don’t cost a thing! Various organisations have realised this, and it’s now possible for your class to speak to scientists from all different walks of life without leaving their seats. I have recently been introduced to Facetime a Farmer, led by LEAF Education and was so excited by the idea that it inspired this entire blog post! Over a series of weeks, pupils can meet and chat to a farmer (and in our case, the sheep!) to get a real insight into running a farm and the science involved in successful animal-rearing and crop-growing. Such a fantastic way to increase children’s Science Capital, and clear links to a whole bunch of curriculum areas.
There’s also the amazing work done by the folks at Encounter Edu, that allows children to speak directly with scientists/explorers in far-flung parts of the world in real time. At least once a year, their team heads out on a research expedition and offers Skype chats in a couple of different formats to help children find out more about the work of research scientists. In recent years, they’ve been to the Arctic, a coral reef and down to the depths of the Indian Ocean in a submarine. Having taken part in Arctic Live in 2016 with my Year 3 class, I can honestly say it was one of the highlights of the year for the children. We had a 30 minute chat with the lovely Jamie (who was ever so patient while we worked out our technical difficulties!) that allowed our budding explorers to ask direct questions and get a good look around the base camp. Afterwards they were so inspired and, despite being far more savvy with tech than we were at their age, they still found it hard to believe that we had spoken to an actual explorer in the actual Arctic.
The website also has a whole bunch of lesson plans and a bank of fantastic images which meant that, as well as the chat, we had a bunch of lessons around the Arctic environment and the life of an explorer, without any addition to my workload! And as if that wasn’t enough, they also have ‘bite-size’ CPD for teachers on their website with tips and pointers to improve STEM teaching. Amazing!
Lights, Camera, Action!
Many schools are now lucky enough to have a class set of iPads or other tablets, which give children a whole host of new ways to report their learning in science. Modern science communication is not just about writing down your findings, so why should recording in the classroom be limited to written explanations? The ‘Spoken Language’ section of the National Curriculum requires that children (among other things) give well-structured descriptions, explanations and narratives for different purposes, speak audibly and fluently with an increasing command of Standard English, participate in discussions, presentations, performances and role play and select and use appropriate registers for effective communication. All of these objectives can be met through creating some form of presentation or piece of drama that communicates pupils’ learning to a given audience. Children could put together reports, short informational programs or vlogs that they then edit with video editing software such as iMovie or more simple apps like Tellagami or Shadow Puppet Edu. They could even add a bit of excitement to their creations by using a green screen app such as Green Screen by Do Ink. Amazingly, I found you don’t need an actual green screen to use green screen software; green display backing paper will do! Although if you were to invest in a green sheet, pupils could use it to cover themselves up and appear to be floating heads! Just be aware that if, like my previous school, you have a green uniform, the videos will look very odd!
Ditch the KWLs
My personal opinions about KWL grids notwithstanding, the use of tablets can make carrying out a pre-assessment much more engaging and, arguably more accurate. At the beginning of our new topic on Plants, we used Pic Collage to show what we know. Pupils were tasked with heading outside to take pictures of leaves, stems, roots and flowers, then using these to create picture collages that explained the purpose of each part. From the examples below, you can see that misconceptions became very clear and I was able to see what children already knew at a glance.
I printed these collages out and stuck them into the children’s books at the beginning of the topic, then at the end had them go back and ‘mark’ their work, explaining their errors and suggesting improvements. This was a great way of showing progress, and also helped me to see which children had hung on to their misconceptions and needed a little extra learning.
Although I used this technique for plants, thanks to the wealth of images available on the internet, this sort of pre-assessment could be done for topics including animal classification, evolution, forces, space and nutrition.
Stay up to Date
I think ReachOut Reporter is definitely one of my most favourite things to share with other teachers. For those of you who haven’t come across it, I’d suggest heading there immediately! They create weekly news updates that are all from the world of science and technology, and are delivered in a child-friendly way. Take a look at this news update from this summer , which includes a round-up of stories over the past year to help you get a flavour for the sort of thing they report on:
New updates are added every Thursday, so the ReachOut Report became a Friday afternoon staple for my Year 3 class. They also do articles and stand-alone videos which were great for sharing with pupils. My particular favourites are the Hawaiian Pom Pom Crab and the Peacock Spider; take a look, I promise you won’t regret it!
As a side note, if you prefer your science news updates in written form, check out the Topical Science Updates from @Glazgow, added monthly here: http://topicalscienceupdates.blogspot.com/
These could make fab guided reading texts, or could be up on the board for pupils to read and discuss when they come in in the morning.
I’m aware that there will be loads of fabulous ICT opportunities that I’ve missed, so do let me know in the comments if I’ve not mentioned your favourite!