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All aboard the Starship Success

"Add the sound effects, costumes, props and a hi-sci inter-galactic form of language and you could be excused for believing the S3 students in front of you were part of the Starship Enterprise's crew.

"With a new zeal for work, members of the S3 maths class, sitting like crew members on the bridge of the Education Starship, set course for another journey to new spheres of learning. Progress is significant. Interest and enthusiasm are maintained; the galaxies of maths, English and science will never be the same again."

This stirring report comes from pupils at Deans Community High School in Livingston where funding from the Scottish Council for Educational Technology and Lothian Region has created a high-tech learning resource centre.

"This is a strictly non-territorial area available to all departments, " Damian Rice, an assistant headteacher who co-ordinates the project, says. "It is also available to students during lunch-times and after school."

Richard Pietrasik, the headteacher, saw the potential of technology when he attended a 2020 Vision in Scotland conference. The system now in place and being evaluated by the Scottish Centre for Research in Education, is Integrated Learning. It uses an American software package called SuccessMaker whose strength lies in the fact that it is relevant across all age-groups from the first year to adult learners.

Trials involve a number of first-year pupils working on maths and English for 10 minutes a day. "The children are very focused and the system has positive advantages in maths, for example, in terms of identifying individuals' weaknesses in number computation and targeting those," Mr Rice says.

Work is tailored to individual abilities and at the end of each session the child is given an immediate response. Teachers are then passed detailed analyses of the children's progress.

Trials in England, organised by the National Council for Educational Technology, suggest that using Integrated Learning, pupils made in six months the kind of progress that would otherwise need 20 months of work. Evaluation at Deans is still in its early stages but seems promising.

The appeal of computer-based learning is obvious. "The majority of young people tend to have a bit more fun with technology, and what is on offer here is not just a matter of straight graphics, there are video elements as well," Mr Rice says. But he adds a cautious note: "You do still have to have human interaction and children can only take so much technology then they just switch off."

It is claimed that Integrated Learning could radically alter the teaching of basic subjects but the predictable drawback is cost. Until the evaluation proves the system's worth, Deans will boldly go where other schools have yet to follow into "galaxies" of maths, English and science that "will never be the same again" for students.

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