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Making the most of what we've got;Class work

Adrian Haggett offers tips on tackling primary computer shortages

During the past year I investigated the use of computers at Sciennes Primary School in Edinburgh where I have been fortunate to have a supply post while studying part-time for another qualification.

The investigation was prompted by an assignment to be submitted to Moray House Institute. I started by counting the computers in the school, adding up all the minutes available in the school year that the computers could be used by the pupils; looked at the school role and worked out the maximum number of minutes of the school year each pupil could expect to work on a computer. Then I referred to the 5 - 14 curriculum on information technology taking account of all the aspects of computer work a child is expected to have experienced by the end of S2. The shortfall was staggering.

"How can the Scottish Office Education Department expect the pupils in this school to experience all this?" I thought. The school has a number of BBC computers and a few Apple Macs, but not nearly enough to achieve what the 5 - 14 curriculum expects; and one thing I do know, Sciennes Primary is not alone. Are there any primary schools with enough computers?

Then I investigated how much use the teachers and pupils were making of the computers. I discovered what I expected to discover. The BBC's had had their dust covers on for the past "I don't know how long". Most staff considered the BBCs out of date; the programmes didn't work, they can't do what the Apple Mac is capable of, and anyway, everyone wants an Apple Mac. "That would be lovely", they said "but when the school is faced with budget cuts in excess of pound;12,000 there is little hope of getting the machines we so long for. We'll just have to make the most of what we've got!"

So, I wrote the assignment, made recommendations about the use of computers at school, and they said: "There are some good ideas in this document. Now get on and do it!"

So I had to think of something that we could do on the BBC that, possibly, we couldn't do on the Apple Mac. I know; I'll teach them a bit of Logo. Good old Logo. We could learn Logo on the Apple Mac, but we don't have the programmes installed. We can only do it on the BBC.

From the scrutiny of the staff-room I heard a roar from the playground: "Boring!".

As it turned out it wasn't boring at all, because we had access to the Logo Turtle; that Logo robot that draws on the floor.

And then another idea hit me. It was Christmas time and in addition to word-processing letters to Santa on a disc labelled "Christmas caption" we could train this Turtle to enter into the Christmas spirit. If the puplis could write a programmes to draw a letter of the alphabet, we could design a banner for Christmas; perhaps the biggest computer banner ever made by school children in Scotland.

After a few lessons on sending the Turtle forward, backwards, left, right, penup, pendown, etc, groups of P7 pupils used centimetre-squared paper to make a frame for a letter. Then the groups chose one of the letters of "Merry Christmas" and designed the letter within the 20 by 20-centimetre frame. As all the frames were the same size we could guarantee the uniformity of the letters. The pupils were able also to learn how to use the variables in order to get the turtle to operate only within the boundaries of the frame.

Once the Turtle had performed the tricks we had programmed into the computer it was a simple task to outline in thick black tape and ask the pupils in the rest of the school to take part in decorating the letters. Then, with ample rolls of masking tape, parcel tape and staple guns, we joined all the letters together and hoisted the banner up the middle of the school stairwell. The result is a 12.6 metre long banner with a Christmas message designed by the P7 pupils and decorated by almost all the children in the school. A worthwhile project.

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