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Reboot your ICT classes

What would you do if your computing course was so dull that teachers and pupils were bored by it? Balwearie High decided to tear theirs up and start again. Raymond Ross reports

If you and your pupils were finding a particular course genuinely boring, creatively stifling andor out of date, would you be willing to implement radical changes?

This is what is happening with information and communications technology at Balwearie High in Kirkcaldy, where the established 5-14 course for S1-S2 is being jettisoned in favour of an approach more in keeping with the principles of A Curriculum for Excellence.

Some 18 months ago, the two principal teachers of computing and business education reported that their jointly run ICT course was uninspiring for pupils and teachers. The management response was: change it.

"If teachers find a course poor, what chance have the pupils got of success? You have to take risks and think out the box," says Balwearie High's head, Gordon Mackenzie.

Teachers were finding the 5-14 guidelines and time restrictions too constraining. There was too much testing and the assessment levels were sometimes inconsistent. Most pupils were not being stretched and the S1 intake was more computer literate than when the course was implemented eight years ago.

"We wanted a course which would inspire pupils, improve their ICT skills and confidence and bring enjoyment and success, especially with A Curriculum for Excellence on the horizon," says computing principal teacher John Mason.

"We regard it as an opportunity for excellence, and what we want is achievement, not assessment," says business education principal teacher Anne-Marie Struthers.

The fundamental shift in classroom practice is away from pupils being isolated on computers for most of a 50-minute period towards group work focused on projects which the pupils will develop and complete themselves.

"We want to turn control over to groups of pupils, with our support and guidance, to learn as much as they can, to take responsibility for their learning," she says. "It's not about course content alone, but how we deliver it.

"It's about the quality of experience, where pupils are challenged and stretched, where they develop leadership and group skills, where they reason and form decisions while respecting other opinions. It's about being good learners while doing ICT."

While materials are being developed and piloted for the new course, which will be fully implemented next August, the reporting structure is being radically altered, away from graded marks towards qualitative feedback on ICT skills and the four capacities specified in A Curriculum for Excellence - becoming successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

"We are moving away from the exposition style of teaching to resource-based work, with two or three projects going on at the same time. These are projects drawn from areas across the curriculum and might cover citizenship, enterprise, health and environmental issues, for example,"

says Mr Mason.

Once pupils' core computing skills have been developed in the first two terms of S1, they will move on to group work. Groups may choose to give a presentation, make posters, produce a magazine (perhaps online), set up a website or make a video.

"Projects will be designed for mixed groups and will be open-ended, so that differentiation of outcome will cater for those developing core skills as well as for high-flyers. They will all achieve concrete ends they can be proud of," Mr Mason says.

"A Curriculum for Excellence has afforded us this opportunity to change from a staid, linear approach to one that is more dynamic and much more responsive. We believe this is where a lot of subjects are going to go, as boundaries between the subjects are broken down. We want our pupils to have the skills set to make them independent, confident learners."

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