Tara Jenkins explores emerging technology in schools
For today’s media-savvy kids, reading an educational book about a shark just isn’t going to cut it. They’ve seen shark videos on YouTube, and probably visited the Shark Exhibit at Ocean Park, so what else is there to discover? Substantially more, it appears: at Nord Anglia International School, pupils can now don special Virtual Reality (VR) goggles and go diving with sharks. It’s possible to see them swimming in the open ocean, look inside their bodies at the circulatory system, and explore some of the dangers they face. “At the end of the session, pupils have a much clearer picture of sharks and their habitats than they would have gained from a traditional lesson,” explains Darren Sutton, Nord Anglia’s Secondary Computing Teacher and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) Coordinator. “I don’t see VR replacing trips and visits, but it certainly has an exciting part to play when introducing pupils to new topics, and giving them experiences that would otherwise be impossible”.
VR-enabled immersive experiences, robotics, 3-D printing and iPads in the primary classroom – welcome to the new age of learning, where developments in technology have radically changed teaching and teachers. And although the pace of change seems disconcertingly rapid to anyone who laboured over dog-eared textbooks as a teenager, technology is now an integral and seminal part of our children’s lives. “It’s important to remember our Primary children were born after the invention of the iPad, and so to them, things that might seem innovative and ground-breaking to us, are quickly becoming the norm,” explains Ryan Speed, Nord Anglia’s Primary Computing Coordinator. “As such, it is important children aren’t using these new tools in a passive way, but are actively encouraged to take control of them, by creating digital content and being versatile in the Apps and software they use”. He says children are adept at trialling new Apps and figuring out the required inputs and outcomes for themselves. “For instance, editing a photo on the Pages App is not too dissimilar to cropping a moving image and making a movie trailer with iMovie, and from there, adding green screen backgrounds and a music score comes naturally to them. With this attitude, our children are technophiles who aren’t afraid to get hands-on with something that could otherwise seem new or strange, and they see the possibilities and positives of new technology”.
And those possibilities are huge. Using Virtual and Augmented Realities to peer into the crater of a volcano, visit other planets, or navigate the human digestive and circulatory system is just one aspect of the push forward: exciting new technologies are enabling progress in every part of the curriculum. Year 8 pupils at Nord Anglia are involved in a ‘Drones for Good’ project, in which they design, 3D print and then programme drones which could be used to solve real world problems, while Year 3 pupils use Minecraft to recreate Ancient Greek Landmarks in History lessons, exploring each other’s creations in a shared virtual space. At GSIS (German Swiss International School), coding is being introduced as an extra-curricular option for students as young as five years old. At Kellett, one of the students has used a robotics kit to design and build a prototype of a shopping trolley that can move up steps. Kellett’s Assistant Head of School with responsibility for Technology Clive Dawes, says many STEM or STEAM projects are investigational in nature, requiring students to identify and solve problems with the aid of computer programming, robotics, or ‘making’. “The publicity surrounding STEM has meant a huge number of companies are providing resources to schools, from programmable robots to smallscale robotics and construction kits,” he says. “Many schools have also created bespoke ‘Makerspacers’ [a place where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools and materials] to expose students to these kind of activities, and encourage them to tackle tasks in an entrepreneurial spirit”.
Technology is helping teachers operate more efficiently, too. Dawes says probably the single most important development in education technology in the past few years has been the whole-scale adoption of G-Suite (previously known as Google Apps for Education). This platform gives schools free access to Google tools such as Docs, Slides, and Sheets, as well as other products such as Google Maps and Forms. Using school-provided accounts and passwords, students can work within these tools anytime and anywhere, sharing and collaborating with their peers and teachers. Management systems like Google Classroom enable teachers to distribute, collect and mark work in online environments, providing comments and even verbal feedback. A rapid increase in Learning Analytics means teachers can now collect data from personalised, adaptive tests to make predictions about future grades for learners. These predictive models, compared with thousands of datasets across the world combine, to help educators make adjustments to learners’ needs, and potentially personalise their learning experiences. New Apps allow teachers to receive instant assessment feedback on a whole class in a second, providing vital information about who understands, who needs help, and what everyone’s next steps should be. In subjects like maths, for example, the rise of VI software learns with the participants, allowing work to become progressively more challenging as the student improves. “These kinds of developments have allowed one of the most valuable commodities to be multiplied – time,” says Naima Charler, Head of Curriculum at Nord Anglia. “Now, with software to help, one teacher can serve so many more pupils in providing instant and individual feedback”.
As technology continues to progress in leaps and bounds, will there be any aspect of the curriculum left untouched? Schools are quick to point out that personal interaction is still hugely important in developing children, especially at the beginning of their school careers. Jon Keelty, Head of English Primary at GSIS, says the early years of learning rely very heavily on person-to-person interaction, especially in the affective domains. “If children lose personal connections with adults and peers due to the increase in online interaction, there would be clear consequences in their adult lives,” he says. “We advocate a balanced approach that avoids an ‘always-on’ mentality to technology use. Clear policies and procedures, as well as a robust education programme that addresses the social, inter-personal and emotional challenges of technology dependence are important to prepare for any issues”. Nord Anglia says it is cautious about the appropriate amount of screen time for each age group, and has chosen to minimise it for very young children (aged three to five years), giving them plenty of opportunities to interact without technology. As a computing teacher, Darren Sutton says he is keen to use technology whenever possible, but stillspends a considerable amount of time in class working away from it. “There is no better tool for brainstorming, feedback and peer evaluation than pen and paper, or speaking directly with a friend or partner,” he says. “These interpersonal and team work skills are crucial for pupils if they are to be successful in later life, and are skills we spend time developing through our project based and enquiry projects”.
As unease grows about the amount of time our children spend on screens and social media – Facebook’s new Messenger App for Kids is the latest product to prompt widespread concern – educators have an increasingly important role to play in teaching this vital balance, while providing pupils with the tools and confidence to protect themselves online. Every reputable school will have a comprehensive e-safety programme operating from Primary level upwards. “In Primary school, we ensure each year group covers a unit of work on safety relevant to their age group, opening up discussion around social media and the benefits and negatives that come with their use,” says Ryan Speed from Nord Anglia. “This allows pupils to navigate and make reasoned choice for themselves.”
With so much new technology in schools, Clive Dawes agrees it’s important to consider the implications for young people. He believes a large amount written about its potentially negative impact, however, is narrow and simplistic in its understanding of the issues. “For instance: student A spends too much time gaming and does not exercise or eat well, and is thus unhealthy; student B who games late into the evening finds it difficult to concentrate at school; young children who spend long periods with iPads find it difficult to read social cues. These are all true to an extent: if you don’t go to bed until 3am, school will be a challenge! But the issue around research into young people’s use of technology is much more complex than that. Teens will spend a lot of time on their phones, but that is because the device is so intrinsically linked to their social circles. Just because your teen uses their phone a lot doesn’t mean they’re not socialising – it means they’re not socialising with you!”
He says the truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle of this discourse. “Young people, given good structure, positive adult rolemodels, an open dialogue with their parents, encouragement to participate in exercise and outdoor activities, an understanding of health and wellbeing, access to technology to learn and socialise – and enough sleep – will be in a great position to leverage all of the fantastic technology at their disposal to ensure a positive future, and to help society solve many of the problems it faces.”
Easy Tech Toys That Teach
OSMO Genius Kit
Transform your ipad into a hands-on learning tool with five award-winning games that make core subjects such as maths, science and spelling fun. Osmo helps develop critical and logical thinking, problem-solving and creative drawing skills. Winner of Toy of the Year 2015 Award and TIME Best Invention 2014 Award. Ages 5 to 12
A 4D, augmented reality based educational game. It includes 60 animal cards, providing an almost real life experience of animals in their habitat, food they eat, distinctive sounds they make and their unique actions. It works with a free companaion app available on most devices. Promotes imagination, self-learning, and creativity. Enhances motor skills. Improves vocabulary through a fun game of learning spellings and correct pronunciations. For ages 2 to 10 years. Other learning titles: Professions, Space and Travel
Playset Coding Toy A great pre-school coding toy that takes coding from the screen into the real world with a programming language that you can touch. How does it work? Made up of colourful coding blocks that children can pick up and arrange to make Cubetto move. Montessori approved for younger children. Ages 3+
This is a board game that teaches the basic principles of logical thinking and coding without the use of technology. Designed for parents and children to have a fun play experience together, using play cards to programme the turtles’ movements across the game board. For ages 4+
Circuit Maze by Think Fun
An award-winning, multi-level toy that promotes logical thinking and basic circuitry concepts. Consists of 60 challenge cards from beginner to expert. Ages 8+ Also available Laser Maze.
A bracelet that communicates! Using the Arduino development environment, kids can create their own features, write their own code and connect with their friends. Ages 9+