Need a lesson plan? Just browse the web

Over in Cambridgeshire, Hinchingbrooke School is sharing the learning recipe. Visit its World Wide Web site and you will find ideas for lesson plans which you can download and carry into your own classroom. Electronic philanthropy has broken out in schools and the Department of Trade and Industry is funding it.

Down in Essex, Tanys Dell Primary School recently won a five-a-side tournament. As well as writing about it in their English books, they published the story on the Web - a real audience does wonders for the motivation.

Hinchingbrooke and Tanys Dell are both founder members of the Schools OnLine Project, which began last year in 60 schools. Now in its second phase, the project has welcomed 95 new schools, and 223 teachers have just received a two-day Internet training course to get them up and running on the Web.

Many have criticised the Government for the lack of a coherent approach to the Internet in education. But, while the Department for Education and Employment has been busy "consulting", the DTI is already into its second year of funding a large and increasingly important project allowing schools and teachers to discover, and even pioneer, the educational potential of the Internet.

The first phase of the project was part funded by the DTI, the Federation of the Electronics Industry, the Computer Services and Software Association and a number of participating companies who sponsored individual schools. It started with a simple premise: that if you want to change the perspectives of tomorrow's workforce, you need to work directly with teachers and students. Each school received hardware and software as well as a dedicated telephone line. The project met the phone bills for the first year for the 60 schools involved. This covered 300 teachers and 1,700 pupils in an Internet collaboration focused on two curriculum areas - science and modern languages.

A Schools OnLine Website was established to support the work carried out by teachers; this was set up at Ultralab, Anglia Polytechnic University's learning research centre under the guidance of Professor Stephen Heppell. The site won the Education Web Award at last year's Edinburgh Interactive Learning Conference.

A project-based approach was adopted; phase one schools conducted interviews with scientists such as Helen Sharman, and exchanged lesson ideas on how to use electronic versions of French newspapers in the classroom.

According to Ian Taylor, the minister for science and technology, the project has had an accelerating effect on the use of IT in schools. "The whole experiment has been monitored so that all schools can learn from Schools OnLine and not just those who played a direct part in it. All schools should take an interest in what Schools OnLine has shown to be possible."

He is equally certain of the importance of continued investment in this area: "Development of computer awareness and how to access information and exchange of ideas over the Internet are vital parts of the education process."

For phase two, each school has again obtained sponsorship from local or national IT companies; ICL, BT, Nortel, IBM, Mitsubishi and Xemplar are among those who have sponsored a number of schools. This year, however, the focus has changed, and starts with the teachers, who go on a two-day training programme to build up their skills. Project manager Tom King says: "We have learnt that the biggest factor in the effective use of technology in school is the teachers' feeling of confidence and competence in using the technology."

In phase one, the training was provided by individual sponsors and "the results were variable". This year experienced teacher trainers who are also Internet specialists have been employed to give a complete introductory training programme. Teachers with no previous experience are confident Web authors by the end of day two.

I watched Patricia Roddy, a teacher from Mark Hall School in Harlow, Essex, make her own Web page. Suddenly, she saw the potential of linking her page with its lesson idea for investigative project work in science to a Web site in Australia that had more ideas on how to take the work further. The concept of the "interconnectedness" of knowledge became a reality as the link was established.

For phase two of the project, Ultralab has built a new Web site. Stephen Heppell explains: "Instead of just a collection of Web pages, the site will build a unique identity for each user. All students and teachers participating will be given their own e-mail accounts and a passport with their individual details, and interests will be generated for them when they log on. The new server will be a place for teachers to meet and talk as they pursue collaborative projects and move towards a form of accreditation for their efforts."

* Schools OnLine can be found at http:sol.Ultralab.anglia. ac.ukpagesschools online. Examples of teachers' pages from the phase 2 training can also be seen at ukeduweb

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* The report Schools OnLine Phase 1 is available from the DTI, 1521 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 9SS.Tel: 0171 215 1368

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