Classrooms learn how to keep in tune

11th June 2010 at 01:00
Yester Primary's Schoolovision is shortlisted for Outstanding ICT Initiative of the Year. In the last of our series on the TES Schools Awards, teacher Michael Purves explains how his music project has plugged into schools across the continent

The first Eurovision Song contest was held in 1956. Now, an East Lothian teacher is beginning to wonder if his own continent-wide music competition will last for as long.

Yester Primary's Michael Purves has been taken aback by the interest in Schoolovision, an idea that came to him while chatting with his wife over dinner in 2008 and led to an inaugural event last year.

The 2010 contest attracted videos from schools in 34 countries, and culminated in a nail-biting live vote on May 25. As soon as it finished, he started receiving emails asking when preparations began for 2011.

Pulling the contest together is an arduous feat which, Mr Purves says, would not have been possible five years ago. It is only feasible through a skilled and imaginative use of the technologies available.

It was in 2005 that eTwinning came into being, a website which helps some 90,000 teachers across the continent set up joint projects.

Equally crucial is FlashMeeting, a web-conferencing tool which is free to schools and makes interactive live voting possible. It's intuitive: "two minutes and you've got the idea," extols Mr Purves. It also has a queuing system, so there was no prospect of the 34 schools talking over each other, as can happen on Skype. Pupils learned about turn-taking.

ICT expertise is also a must, since problems cropped up regularly and not all schools used the same technology. Mr Purves, a veteran of several ICT- based projects, could find himself on a lengthy phone call to the Netherlands, helping to upload a video. But the project also introduced him to Steffen Toppler, who teaches at Freie Schule Kassel in central Germany. He is a "genius" with new technology and was guaranteed to get to the root of any problem.

But technology has to be lubricated by good old-fashioned elbow grease and military-style planning. Mr Purves warns that an international contest of this scale should not be taken on before trying smaller projects, and organisers must expect to give up evenings and weekends in the month leading up to voting.

Since The TESS reported on last year's inaugural contest, Schoolovision has become bigger, slicker and flashier, and excitement has soared.

The winning Icelandic entry, a cover of Abba's `Dancing Queen', featured myriad on-location shots, including footage from a boat. The Czech entry, which finished second, was written by pop group Suzaplay.

Several schools had their efforts covered by television crews. The BBC visited the village of Gifford to feature Yester Primary, which secured third place for Scotland.

Last year, voting concluded with a cursory announcement that the winning entry came from the Czech Republic. This year, there was a countdown from 34 to 1. The effect, Mr Purves recalls, was to ratchet up excitement throughout the continent - even a top 10 finish could send youngsters racing round a far-flung classroom in celebration.

The project, he believes, is the epitome of Curriculum for Excellence. It covers a broad range of different skills but, more crucially, it is a shift away from didacticism. Children were finding out about other cultures in the same way they learn social skills in the playground - through informal interaction with their peers.

As one pupil told Mr Purves: "It was really cool to learn directly from the people in these countries, rather than from the teacher."

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