Bucking the trend

From mobile tech to mindfulness, editor Stephanie Broad takes a look at the latest classroom trends

Are you keeping up with the Joneses of the education sector? With fees rising and career competition fierce, schools need to prepare pupils for the future with real-world skills and personal development as well as traditional academic studies.

In Cardiff, Kings Monkton School has been using Google Apps and e-books to boost ICT skills and allow easier feedback. Principal Paul Norton says: “In computer science, pupils produce all their work within Google Apps and save their work online. This means their ICT skills are developed from the outset in order to access their work – which is stored in an orderly and pristine condition.

“Teachers are able to mark work online and give detailed feedback linked to national assessment standards. Pupils can log into each other’s work and give peer feedback, which can be used to identify strengths and areas of development for each cohort.”

It’s not just those in the classroom who benefit from this cloud-based approach. Norton continues: “Parents are enjoying the opportunity to log into their children’s work to view what they have done or show relatives, especially if they live abroad. From a leadership viewpoint, departmental costs are down as the need for homework diaries and exercise books diminishes; we move closer to becoming an eco-friendly school; and book scrutiny can be carried out at any time.”

The positive use of cloud storage and mobile devices can also help to create a ‘global classroom’. Dr Kevin Burden, an international authority on educational technology and mobile learning from the University of Hull, believes mobile technology presents an opportunity for students to experience working with different cultures and to engage using different languages. He says: “Mobile technology can be used to collect data internationally, so that schools engaged in a science or ecology project can access real-time data collected by students in different countries. It’s a road I believe will take us away from traditional teaching methods, with students collaborating with experts anywhere in the world through their mobile devices.”

School textbooks are looking set to be replaced by interactive multimedia online teaching aids. Kevin is currently developing a partnership with the Stephen Perse Foundation School in Cambridge, which is developing its own textbooks using iBook Author. He is also working with Hymers College in Hull, where teachers are exploring the use of the iPad as a teaching aid in the lower school. “Schools are beginning to do things – like developing international, global links – that would be very difficult, if not impossible, without mobile, touch-screen technology,” he says.

Collaboration isn’t all about technology – a good classroom set-up can make all the difference. Newland College is using a ‘roundtable’ approach to facilitate discussion and better engagement with learning materials. Ben Toettcher, director of SKOLA group and founder of Newland College, says: “A few years ago, I came across the ‘Harkness’ method of teaching. This is a roundtable set-up that was pioneered in the 1930s by the Philip’s Exeter Academy in New England.”

A roundtable discussion, according to Ben, allows students to teach and learn from one another while advocating habits such as listening actively, interjecting in a constructive way and learning to prepare for discussions. The Newland classroom has up to five surfaces: a wall-to-wall magnetic whiteboard, enough mini-whiteboards and laptops for each student, a smart TV and a central-console screen visible to all students and the teacher. Ben recommends that more schools try it. “It works because every student gets a front-row seat and teachers who have used the central-console have reported that student engagement is higher. It adds a level of complexity at the planning stage, but also there are more resources for each teacher for capturing and analysing new moments of interest in a lesson.”

Another way to support and engage students is to use a tutor for specialist subjects. Edd Stockwell, co-founder of tutoring social enterprise Tutorfair, comments: “We are seeing much more appetite from schools to engage directly with tutors to support their teachers and students, and we expect this trend to continue. For example, we have been working with a number of independent colleges and schools to provide tutors who specialise in niche subjects, such as computer science and Russian. More schools are realising that engaging with tutors allows them to be more nimble and offer students more choice.”

Fulham Prep School recently welcomed Kuato Studios, specialists in educational games for children, for a day of coding – now widely recognized as a key skill for future careers. As part of the 100 Hours of Code initiative, Kuato taught year-six students some basic JavaScript using Hakitzu, a game that takes children through some of the basics. Piers Young, a teacher at Fulham Prep, says: “We’re trying hard to teach the children computational thinking in the round, rather than just ‘a language’, and Kuato certainly helps this. Children start breaking problems down into smaller sub-problems, they discuss solutions with each other and they spot patterns.”


Kuato at Fulham Prep

The challenge now for Fulham is using the training in the classroom to develop these essential vocational skills: “Like many schools, we have an IT lab with desktops. We also have a programme of study where children look at computational thinking in a range of environments, each year edging towards more text-based coding. The transition from more visual coding to text-based is a challenge and I’m keen to use Kuato to help with that. Given the children’s understanding of HTML, we may well try to combine with that.”

In response to a growing ‘skills gap’ in the UK, vocational learning has never been more important. Class of Your Own suggest several approaches which can help eliminate this gap, such as collaborating with industry leaders and implementing a more project-based approach to learning. Education director Liz Forrester says: “Our curriculum Design, Engineer, Construct (DEC) is a learning programme which applies pure academic subjects to the latest construction industry practices. We’ve seen the benefits of schools partnering with industry organisations to deliver vocational learning first hand. We anticipate the same experience in independent schools as they roll out the programme from September onwards.”

Schools could also invite professional industry representatives from the local area to support and advise students, as well as arranging work experience opportunities to gain further insight into professional and technical careers. Liz concludes: “Via carefully developed project-based learning programmes, supported by direct engagement with industry, it is possible to broaden students’ horizons, making them aware of the wealth of careers available to them, and to give them the transferable, practical skills which industry so desperately needs.”

Class Of Your Own

The key to keeping up with all these developments could be a ‘mindful’ attitude. Mindfulness is a buzzword now, as many people discover its wide-ranging benefits.

Aysgarth School is introducing its reception pupils to the practice, which teaches them to ‘live in the moment’ by becoming more aware of their senses and through short daily meditation practices. Gill Shaw, early years leader at Aysgarth, says: “Just a term after starting this practice, there has been a noticeable increase in the children’s emotional literacy and awareness of not only of their own feelings, but those of their friends. It seems that mindfulness can help to establish mental wellbeing in even our youngest children, and its benefits are being felt way beyond five minutes of calm in a busy reception classroom.”

King’s Monkton School: www.kingsmonkton.org.uk

University of Hull: www2.hull.ac.uk 

Newland College: www.newlandcollege.co.uk

Tutorfair: www.tutorfair.com

Kuatos Studios: www.kuatostudios.com

Class Of Your Own: www.designengineerconstruct.com

Aysgarth Pre-Prep: www.aysgarthschool.com    

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