CPD - Centre of the future brings IT potential to the table

19th November 2010 at 00:00
Cutting-edge kit is switching Aberdeenshire staff on to new possibilities in hi-tech learning

Everything you want to know about the latest technology but were afraid to ask - this futuristic learning space is where teachers can get up to speed with their pupils.

If you need to call IT support to put your telly on, this could be for you - friendly people who won't laugh when you don't know the difference between your pads and your pods, and hundreds of small children on hand in case there's a genuine technological emergency.

This is Aberdeenshire's H2L2 (how to learn to) project, which aims to explore the educational possibilities the latest technologies offer. It is housed at Hill of Banchory School and has been developed by Aberdeenshire's Glow team with support from Derek Robertson at Learning and Teaching Scotland.

It's a sleek, colourful room that has the latest technology and furniture for contemporary learning and teaching. In the words of nine-year-old Louisa Cameron from P5, it's "wicked."

Push a button and the central section of the table rises to reveal a concealed bank of computer screens, so pupils can move from one activity to another without changing location. Disappear into an enclosed pod in the centre of the room and you can create a classroom within a classroom - a secluded space for a different activity.

You can try out the latest in games-based learning and if you are comfortable with your colleagues, you may even want to show off your dance moves on the latest Wii Just Dance game.

There's a range of seating, including huge wipeable seats like beanbags and if you want to plug in equipment at your workstation, a periscope of waterproof power sockets emerges neatly from the centre of the table.

Aberdeenshire's head of education, Laura Mason, explains the thinking behind the flexible new learning space.

"There were several things from a strategic point of view we thought would be beneficial," she says. "It would help us implement our 3-18 framework, because in the foundation of that is 21st-century learning, 21st-century curriculum, 21st-century environment. We felt that by setting up an area that looked to the future, it would inspire staff and let people see the way things could be laid out, that's a wee bit different from the way things happen now.

"It runs alongside the Learning Together in Aberdeenshire strategy, which encourages a collaborative approach to professional learning and young people's learning. It's a work space that will challenge and inspire and support learning at all levels."

Teachers will come here for CPD, pupils will visit and new devices and games will be piloted in schools across Aberdeenshire. To encourage virtual learning, a live webcam feeding into Glow will allow everyone to see what's happening, with discussion on Glow groups and blogs.

Anna Rossvoll, CfE officer with responsibility for Glow and Learning through Technology, is tour guide around this educational showhouse. The idea was inspired by a visit to the RM REAL Centre (Rethinking Education And Learning) in Oxford.

Inside the pod in the middle of the room we look at the iPod Touch, then the Flip Cameras and Mini Books, then try to feed biscuits to a monkey on the iPet. As Anna battles to drop biscuits into its bowl, the live action is projected onto a white table in front of us.

This is not all about entertainment, although it clearly makes learning more fun. "We look at the learning first and what we are wanting to improve, then we look for the tools to do that," says Mrs Rossvoll, now based at Hill of Banchory with the Glow team.

At the other side of the room, two Hill of Banchory pupils have created an animation using the I Can Animate software and sea creatures made of plasticine. If you went to school in an era when coloured felt pens were the height of innovation, it's difficult not to experience a twinge of envy.



When nine-year-old Louisa Cameron checked out the H2L2 space at her school at Hill of Banchory in Aberdeenshire, it was the colour scheme that grabbed her.

"Isn't that an awesome colour to have, because it's so bright? That's wicked," says Louisa, as she investigates the lime pod, which creates an extra self-contained space within the classroom.

Louisa and her classmate Tom Cuthbertson, 10 (above, left), have been testing the new seating and some of the games. "This is really cool," says Tom, as he sits on a seat designed in the shape of a puppy.

Teachers from across Aberdeenshire will be able to visit in person and through Glow, to see how the designs could help create flexible learning opportunities in their own schools.

They will also try out new devices and games in their schools as part of a pilot running across the authority until next Easter. Twenty iPod Touches have been put into every secondary school and primary cluster group and the long-term aim is for every child in Aberdeenshire to have personal access to some kind of a device like an iPod to suit their needs - either their own or one provided for them.

Hill of Banchory probationer teacher Paula Twigg (above right) has been looking round some of the equipment today and at a CPD session on Learning through Technologies for probationers earlier this week. She thinks it's "fantastic".

"It's going to bring a nice dimension to our learning to make it more active and relevant to what children are seeing outwith school," she says. "It's amazing if it's used in the right context and you're using it as a tool. It's not driving the learning; it's supplementing it."

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