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Ready for the challenge

Chris Drage looks at how new teachers can put the computer room and whiteboard to effective use - even if they have had little technology training

Two newly qualified teachers I spoke to this term had different backgrounds in ICT training, yet were finding it a challenge to implement in the early stage of their respective careers.

The PGCE graduate had used computers in her previous work, but had little or no experience in implementing ICT ("No schools on my teaching practice provided me with the opportunity"). The other NQT, who had undertaken a full teacher training course, fared better but when asked how much experience she had with interactive whiteboards, she replied: "We had two sessions in which we were shown what you can do with one, but we never actually used it."

If the experiences of these two young teachers are anything to go by, there appears to be no cohesive or consistent teacher-training syllabus for ICT.

There may be a large number of NQTs who are very able and willing to use ICT, but lack even the briefest experience in its effective implementation in education.

Most secondary schools now have a computer room equipped with networked PCs, and this is an increasing trend in primaries. Before your students even step inside the door, learn how to use the computer network room in your school. Teaching in a network room brings with it a raft of management issues that you will need to be aware of and plan for. Ask the ICT co-ordinator to brief you on how the network room is set up before you use it and, if possible, to teach a demonstration lesson for you.

When using a network room, have a list of user names and passwords, as some students will forget theirs. These should be written on card or in a word or spelling book, with the password spelt correctly.

Know the procedures for using the room. For example, when logging off and before leaving the room have every pupil upturn the mouse so you can check the mouse balls are still in place.

If there is class management software available, such as RM Tutor, Viglen ClassLink, NetSupport School or NetOp School, become familiar with it and practise using it as this will provide you with much more control, giving you confidence - you are in charge. Get tips from the ICT co-ordinator.

Establish the rules of the network room in the first few lessons and have other work available for slower pupils. Do not assume that just because they are Year 5 they know what they should do. Go to the room before the lesson to check that everything you need is working - especially the printer.

If the network room is not equipped with headphones, ask the ICT co-ordinator or technician to ensure that sound on each machine is disabled. For some students the temptation of adjusting the sound setting to unsociable levels is just too great.

If you don't set ground rules for printing you can waste valuable resources with unnecessary print-outs. Establish the rule of "only one click to print", and students can only print when they have your permission.

Beware of using floppy discs for storing or transferring work. These are unreliable and can spread viruses. Get students into the habit of saving their work to the public drive on the network and teach them how to retrieve it via the network. If you do need to transfer files, use a USB storage device.

Even with the best technical service in the world, computer networks have an annoying habit of going wrong when you need them most. Always have a non-computer activity ready that relates to the topic you are doing.

Teaching in the network room should be like any other lesson. This includes stopping the lesson, demonstrating and asking questions. The ICT lesson is not simply "going on the internet". That is opting out and giving students free time. It should be like any other lesson, offering structure, rigour and pace.

Start your first lesson with a graphics program that uses no language. It offers a low teacher-intervention task, reducing the demands on your time, thus enabling you to get a broad picture of the range of IT skills in your class.

At this stage you do not need to spend time spelling words and reading instructions. Know how to use the software that students can use as a stand-by if things go wrong or when they have finished an activity. Clicker 4, Starspell, DevTray and My World 3 can all be easily tailored to provide an extra challenge.

Also spend time learning the software on your class computer so you can introduce each program when required and establish its use gradually with the class. Make sure you are confident with it before you let the children use it. Put the most ICT-capable ones on before the less capable children.

They make excellent trouble-shooters.

For starters, get to know one piece of software to support literacy, such as Clicker 4, and one for numeracy (there are hundreds to choose from). A good ploy is to have a chart on your ICT wall display (near your class computer), which has all the curriculum subjects, so you can pin the name of the software the students will be using in each subject for that week.

This saves time and encourages independence.J With the network machines, make sure you are familiar with everything when you log into your classroom computer as a teacher, and also become familiar with how the children log in. Often their desktop environment is different from the teacher's.J A useful first task for any age group is getting them to make labels for their subject folders. This a simple activity, but one that can reveal a surprising amount of ICT expertise.J Key stage 1 children should be encouraged to use leading capitals and the "return" key, while older pupils should be encouraged to use different styles, fonts, effects, sizes and any other attributes.

Another activity early on in the first term is to get students to use the art software to construct a "smiley face", using as many of the tools and effects as they can. After adding their names, these can be printed and used to make a wall display. Again, it is quick and simple, and requires few reading skills and a low level of teacher intervention. It also offers a great deal of scope for assessment of the overall class and individual experience and capability with ICT.JJ The interactive whiteboard (or just data projector and screen) is extremely effective for whole-class and group teaching. If you are fortunate to have one in your new classroom, find someone on the staff who can show you how it works and start with one piece of curriculum software until you gain confidence. It is paramount that you are familiar with it before introducing it to the class.

Use the data projector and screen or interactive whiteboard to demonstrate the modus operandi of the software your children will be using and to brainstorm or record ideas.

Finally, don't panic or try to take on everything at once, or to be too ambitious.J Yes, there will be gaps and holes, but no one is going to expect you to be on top of delivering cross-curricular ICT in your first weeks of managing a class. Start small, but whatever you undertake, do it well.

After completion, both you and your charges should feel positive about the experience and want to try it again.JAt that point it becomes the building block for new and potentially exciting ICT-based learning experiences.

Teaching tips

Top 10 tips

1 Be familiar and confident about using the classroom computer, network room, digital camera, scanner, whiteboard and software.

2 Ask for induction in this technology from the ICT co-ordinator or one of the school management team.

3 Just as in good classroom practice, make sure pupils know the rules of using the network room and abide by them, by establishing these in the first few lessons.

4 Re-emphasise, at every opportunity, your expectation of the class that they are going to use the computers to get a job of work done. Using ICT is never "free time", unless you specifically allow it.

5 Initially, get familiar and confident with one or two pieces of software.

Don't try to take on integrating ICT into the whole curriculum at this stage. Introduce new titles across the curriculum only when you are confident you know their relevance and modus operandi.

6 A lesson that uses a computer network should have the same structure and rigour as one in the classroom.

7 Individual assessment in ICT is one of the most difficult areas to do accurately. Use the initial lessons in the network for whole-class assessment. By choosing a low teacher-intervention task, you will have time to watch them work and ask questions.

8 Walk before you can run. Just because there is an interactive whiteboard in the classroom, you may not necessarily feel confident with it. Use it just to display the computer screen to the class and gradually pick up and use its interactive components as you go along.

9 One person trying to manage 30 children in the network room can be a daunting prospect. Ask if you can use a teaching assistant to help you at first.

10 Use the expertise of your team, the school ICT co-ordinator, your mentor and school management team. They are there to help.

Five items of software to get to know

1 The range of software on your classroom computer and on the network; 2 Network management software;

3 Artgraphics software used in your school (see above);

4 Software for interactive whiteboard (if there is one);

5 Any online subscription content your school uses, such as Espresso, Big Bus, Knowledge Box and so on.

Five items of hardware to learn to use

1 The classroom computer;

2 How the network functions (eg where resources are found and where work is stored);

3 The interactive whiteboard and projector;

4 The school's digital camera(s);

5 The scanner.

Five support websites to get to know

www.northerngrid.orgngfl websiteep.htm

(for assessment in ICT)

Your local authority's website, or try

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