Ahead of the game

4th March 2005 at 00:00
Primary school teacher Tim Rylands isn't waiting for education software to catch up with the gaming world, Jack Kenny enjoys a Mystical experience

Sometimes you encounter a teacher for whom the term "good practice" is not appropriate. More like "brilliant practice", "superb practice", "ground-breaking practice". Tim Rylands is such a teacher.

The first time we met I sat with a colleague at the back of Tim's classroom in Chew Magna primary school, near Bristol. Tim, and the class, completely ignored us because they were focused, absorbed in what they were doing.

There was a whiteboard. Tim sat in front of it, in the body of the class, with the children gathered around him.

ICT people have talked for years about having educational software that is as compelling and beautifully designed as games software. Tim could not wait; he uses games software. The computer game Exile is part of the Myst series: unusual games, almost mystical. Tim and his students don't really play the games; he explores with the children the landscapes that are like something from a brilliant, detailed dream.

In the lesson, on the whiteboard, we started in a rocky terrain. You could see that it had been inhabited. Stone steps flanked by gnarled wooden railings led upwards to an ornate door. "Should we open it?" asked Tim.

"Yes," chorused the Year 6 children. The door slid back and, inside, the cave-like room was bathed with gold. That light flooded the classroom too and illuminated the children's faces as they sat enraptured by the images.

"Write down what you feel at this moment." They scribbled away. And so it went on as we travelled down corridors and eventually emerged on a cliff overlooking the sea. Should we climb into a pewter vessel that looked as though it was out of Jules Verne? We did and looked at the controls. An exploratory press on a button and the children gasped as the craft moved forward whooshing us over the sea to a nearby island. They scrawled their feelings and thoughts. The vivid experience jolted superb writing from the children.

What are they learning? Tim believes the quality of speaking and listening is raised. "They have a shared experience and, the way we work, 30 people can have a conversation without putting their hands up because they are listening to each other and respecting each other," says Tim. "They can observe the non-verbal communication. They are capable of taking turns.

They are sharing listening. Flowing from that, they write all through the lesson, recording reflections, descriptions, narratives."

Tim's work is about creativity. Even the bamboo walking stick he uses is actually three flutes. His own use of ICT is outstanding; if you see a presentation of his you will gasp at the nerve of the ideas and at the beauty of the screens. It is not about ICT; he is no more interested in the ICT than he is in arguing about which musical keyboard is the best. It is all about making music, making pictures and intriguing children.

The ICT in Practice Awards did not discover Tim; he was already well known and appreciated in the area. He has contributed at a best practice interactive whiteboard event, and was invited to speak at the West of England Regional ICT Conference on "Using ICT to Inspire - Raising levels of creativity using computer generated worlds". Tim took that chance to explore ideas for raising the level of writing, speaking and listening. He showed how teachers could use virtual reality worlds and landscapes to develop problem-solving skills and motivate creative writing. His seminar attracted more teachers than American guru Alan November's.

At first sight what Tim does is highly unconventional. "I am doing basic things in an off-the-wall way, but it gets results," Tim explains. "I am trying to create the magic, the enjoyment rather than just the basic skill.

Fifty-seven per cent of our children achieve level 5 in English. One hundred per cent of our boys achieve level 4. We had the highest added value in the county and we came third in the league tables for the county."

The ones who really benefit are the children at Chew Magna. Tim writes music for them to perform, he supports them on video work. He works miracles with the confidence and enthusiasm of children, particularly in the areas of ICT, music and writing, or even the three combined in some original and imaginative way. His ultimate aim is to "See or hear the result, not the technology that has been used to create it."


* Make the link between analogue writing and the digital medium. Embedding ICT becomes more natural. Avoid sending children to a computer on their own - they learn more when sharing ideas. Ensure there is space for children to work.

* Remember it's the communication NOT the technology.

* In our music we go for enthusiasm rather than accuracy... but the end result is always exciting.

* In digital filming: DO be involved in the planning stage of a project to ensure that the group is focused on the outcome rather than just the props.

But, when they get going, stay clear.

* Make your use of ICT FUN! Celebrate and cherish the results.


* www.mystworlds.com

To take your first steps.

* www.harmonyhollow.net

For The Hat - a handy way of shirking all responsibility for choosing someone in your class to go first!

* www.timrylands.com

Listen to samples from our original musicals.

* www.ergo.co.uk

Computers that can handle any visual and audio challenge.

* www.photosforpeace.org

Atmospheric pictures to inspire empathetic writing.


* www.promethean world.comuk A whiteboard isn't just for visual learners. It can be a multi-sensory, immersive event. I use the extensive Promethean package of teaching software alongside the interactive games to create a shared experience for the whole class.

* www.playdigitalblue.com

These accessible cameras were our first step into digital film. Animations, special effects and simple editing facilities have given children control over the whole film-making process, from planning to presentation of the results. Great fun.

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