Jack Kenny discovers what happened when an Isle of Man school, with some help from Apple, gave every child in the class their own computer
The Isle of Man does not have a Building Schools for the Future programme, and if you look at what is going on in many of its schools you might argue that they do not need one. Some schools are already in the future.
The 1 to 1 Learning project, based on Apple iBook laptops, is an imaginative initiative that aims to discover what happens in a classroom when every child has access to a computer not just during the school day but in the evening as well, since these computers are taken home at the end of each day.
"The children were showing one another things that we did not know they knew - they were discovering things rather than us teaching them," says Julie Wilsdon, ICT co-ordinator at Dhoon School, a small rural primary school with 103 children. Julie has 28 pupils and 28 iBooks. "We used them initially for numeracy and literacy. We have just done a project on world music and we looked at rhythms and rhythm patterns and which rhythm patterns would suit different types of music around the world. We used GarageBand. The children used real acoustic salsa music tracks. One girl even digitally copied some acoustic Spanish guitar music and put it into GarageBand."
Julie argues that teachers have to avoid limitat the children. "Because we do not know what children and computers can do, we have to avoid low expectations. This kind of access has made these children into 'gifted and talented' as far ICT is concerned. We are not using the computers to teach what we have always taught; we are beginning to do new things, to teach new things. We are learning about learning at the side of the children."
The children use screenshots a great deal. They use a program called Snapz Pro that captures images, still or moving, from the computer. Video is caught and included in their presentations. The program Sketch Up is also popular - it creates 3D designs and short animations. One boy has created a Tardis and he has it flying round the universe with a lens flare in iMovie.
"Anyone can be creative with time to play and develop," says Julie. "These children do have time and their parents are very supportive.
They are blown away by what their children are doing. When you see six-year-olds building 3D houses and turning them round and looking inside you ask what that does for their mathematical understanding."
Julie believes that the need for an audience is important for children who are doing this kind of work. "It needs to be celebrated," she says. "I think that we are reaching a stage where if it is not valued beyond the school it will be dispiriting. They are so keen for me to see what they have done, and when there is so much it is hard to do justice to it all. If they know they do not have an audience for what they do, why would they bother finishing it? That is why we have learning partners and self assessment. We use the remote desktop. I can put up anyone's work on the big screen so that everyone can see it and discuss it."
So, will the scheme be a success? Isle of Man ICT adviser John Thornley says that they can only run such schemes because of the total cost of ownership of Apple solutions. "Having iBooks allowed us to get rid of computer rooms, giving schools extra space and money. There is a reduced amount of training time for Apple software and the cost of maintenance is very low. We have about 4,000 Macs in 40 networks across the island and we look after them with two technicians.
"We were confident that the scheme would be successful but we've been amazed by the progress made by pupils when they have time at home to 'experiment' and extend the work they do during the day. A benefit we never thought of is when children teach their younger (sometimes older) siblings as well as parents to use the software."
Alex Townsend, who has been working with one computer to one child on the island's computer bus for many years, is in no doubt about the 1 to 1 project. "This is about ICT coming of age. This is what we have been working towards, what it has all been about. 1 to 1 is inevitability."
1 to 1 Learning
Why: The Isle of Man instituted the 1 to 1 scheme to "to determine just how far pupils can progress when exposure to computers with creative software is not time limited," says ICT adviser John Thornley. "Providing every pupil with ready access to a computer whenever it is appropriate is a natural goal and it's just a matter of time before we get there."
How: The concept of total cost of ownership is at the heart of the work.
John believes that the Apple machines are more robust and easier to manage.
This is borne out by the fact that ICT in the island's primary schools is run by just two technicians. Adviser Graham Kinrade, who is responsible for remotely managing all the computers in the primary schools, has 900 client computers (desktop and laptop), 115 servers, 40 networks, 300 wireless access points (Apple Base Stations) and numerous other pieces of equipment.
(I talked to a head recently who boasted that she ran her PC-based school network with three technicians - and the ICT was mediocre!) Considerations
Purchasers need to challenge the decisions to buy PCs. The experience of the Isle of Man challenges the myths about Apple computers in education.
The primary schools run a full curriculum with the software available for this operating system. The recently released Boot Camp software makes it possible for an Intel-based Macintosh to run either Windows XP or Mac OS X.
* iLife (including iMovie and GarageBand) www.apple.comilife
* Sketchup www.sketchup.co.uk
* Comic Life http:store.apple.comAppleWebObjectsukstore.woa
* SoundStudio 3 http:store.apple.comAppleWebObjectsukstore.woa
* I Can Animate www.kudlian.netproductsicananimate
* Enhanced Podcasts www.kudlian.netproductspodcasterorder
* Snapz Prowww.ambrosiasw.com