A class 6,000 miles away

Third and fourth year pupils at a Shetland high school are deepening their own understanding of biology and helping others by teaching it to classes in South Africa

ONCE A school has learnt to shrink distances, the actual size no longer matters. Large continents can be crossed as easily as small countries. So third and fourth year pupils at Anderson High in Shetland have been designing lessons for their fellow pupils, not in the school down the road - because there isn't one - but 6,000 miles away in South Africa.

The global classroom was born at Britain's most remote secondary from a fertile union of isolation and imagination, long before the internet age, when inter-national links were forged through letters and phone calls.

Nowadays, emails, online forums and videoconferences are preferred, and pupils of all ages are actively involved.

Calum Leask in S4 recalls his surprise when he found this distance learning project "a lot of fun", even though he and his colleagues were doing most of the work in their own time. "It was good to try to pass on your own knowledge. It made it so much easier to learn. We all enjoyed it and that spurred us on to do well."

Anderson High's links with schools around the world now include educational establishments on five continents. Focus and funding has recently come from its Schools of Ambition programme, with its objective of unlocking new ways to "live locally and learn globally".

Anderson's partner in this initiative is South Peninsula High, a Cape Town-based school of almost 900 pupils, founded originally for the children of farm labourers. While committed to raising academic standards, the school is not well equipped for science in Scottish terms. "The kids talked about what we were going to do at a videoconference," says Claire Reid, Anderson's head of biology. "One question the South African kids asked was: 'Do you have to buy your own beakers and things and take them to school?'

It really opened our kids' eyes to how privileged they are."

The aim of the project was to prepare demonstrations using equipment at Anderson to show to pupils at South Peninsula. Two topics were chosen by the pupils - photosynthesis and the heart - and allocated to third and fourth year classes respectively.

The pupils in each class worked on preparing PowerPoint presentations, delivered initially through a videoconference and subsequently by email, explains Caroline Simpson, the third year biology teacher. "These had video clips of the different experiments, shots of them explaining to camera what they were doing and why, then showing the results and discussing them. They were delivering a lesson, with them as the teachers.

"They formed groups and decided who would do the experiments, present and narrate, shoot the video, write the script, prepare experiments and edit the films."

The benefits will be felt at South Peninsula when the lessons are delivered, but Anderson High is seeing them already.

"I've got a class that works well together," says Ms Simpson. "Since they've been trying to teach the subject, they have a better understanding of what it is I'm trying to do with them.

"I'm looking forward to teaching these kids the rest of the course."

* www.globalclassroom.cz http:en.wikipedia.orgwikiGlobal_Classroom

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