Crick Software and how it all began
She is at the forefront of educational ICT, but Ann Crick admits she is "not at all technically minded". And it is this straightforward approach that has underpinned the success of one of the most popular pieces of software in schools today.
Ann is curriculum director of Crick Software, and one half of the husband-and-wife team behind the creation of Clicker, which has earned its place as a classroom classic. Over the last decade, Clicker has won the BETT Gold Award for Special Needs Software on no fewer than five occasions, and now enjoys mainstream appeal among teachers and pupils around the country.
The company was founded by John Crick in 1993, and while he was setting out to create Clicker, his wife was discovering the power of ICT in her classroom. Ann was at Billing Brook, a special school in Northampton, and had just returned to full-time teaching after taking a nine-year career break to raise the couple's three sons. Her previous post was in a secondary where ICT was "the domain of the maths department and a mystery to the rest of us", although she had taught herself basic computer skills at home with the boys.
As a Year 4 teacher and English co-ordinator at Billing Brook, Ann worked with children of all ages, and soon discovered how much they could be motivated by software such as My World, which enabled children to make pictures on screen, and Talking First Word, a talking word processor. "They got great results, especially older pupils who could type things in and produce really professional portfolios - from that point of view alone, ICT was a winner. I realised I had no interest in the computers themselves - but I was fascinated by what these machines could help children achieve."
As she worked with Year 4 on early literacy, she started to see how she could build ICT into classroom life. "I realised that instead of having one pupil sitting in the corner at the screen, we could all be doing really interesting things together on the computer. I wanted to make ICT an integral part of the lesson but I had to make that work across a huge range of ability levels. We had children who could read and write and those with no language in the same class."
She turned to Clicker for help. John had spent almost a year writing the software, drawing on Ann's classroom know-how as well as his own experience of teaching at a special school. The aim was to give all children a way into writing. They could word-process their story by selecting letters, words, phrases or pictures from an on-screen grid, employing switch technology if they couldn't use a mouse or keyboard.
"I began making grids for lessons, and the children helped make some in class," says Ann. "After our local geography walk, we would make one that contained everything we remembered seeing, and then we did some sequencing to create a map as a souvenir of the walk. I was able to introduce word-banks, so children could select words about a particular topic rather than having to start writing from scratch. Clicker grids could be tailor-made to suit the ability level of the children, and that's when ICT really became part of every lesson."
In the early days of Crick Software, Ann created the grids that served as examples of what could be achieved. As the company grew, she took on more responsibility for Clicker's content, and became full-time curriculum director in 1999. Ideas which hatched in her classroom have been developed into a range of popular materials, such as Find Out and Write About, a non-fiction series of 11 titles which began when she helped pupils find out and write about giraffes, and Planet Wobble, which offers both on-screen and traditional books. In the latest development, video material from Espresso Education is being made available in Clicker as part of a scheme to make current affairs resources more accessible to children with special needs.
Teachers who have developed resources are encouraged to share them at the Clicker LearningGrids website (www.learninggrids.com ), and material is also created for the site by a content development team overseen by Ann.
She says: "We are doing what all teachers would love to do - spending time creating things, rather than having to get it done for tomorrow. It's a fantastic luxury."