eTwinning has excited children and teachers all over Europe. Raymond Ross reports on an initiative breaking down barriers
Past generations may have felt cut off from the Continent, but today's pupils are encouraged to feel European. Part of that is down to initiatives like eTwinning, launched in January by the European Commission.
This is creating an online European community, with partnerships between schools in different countries and joint curriculum projects.
eTwinning allows schools to learn from each other, to share views and make friends, promoting the awareness of the multilingual and multicultural European model of society.
Benefits for pupils include increased motivation (as they have an audience in a school in another country), enhanced skills in ICT, communication and foreign languages and greater cultural awareness. The teachers can benefit from direct contact with professionals in another country, awareness of different teaching and management styles and the sharing of experiences.
These are just some of the benefits felt at Cauldeen Primary in Inverness.
The school has been collaborating with two schools in Malta and one in Poland on a cross-curricular project on the Second World War.
"Our partner schools were involved in researching the local impact of the war in their own areas and collected memoirs to share in the eTwinning project," says Cauldeen headteacher George Glass.
"Our pupils invited local veterans, grandparents and community members to share their memories which were recorded using digital video. It was a unique learning experience for the pupils which raised their estimation of the older community members," he says.
The recording of the veterans' and locals' experiences was then shared with the partner schools. Cauldeen used the reciprocal transcripts of civilians in Malta to compare and contrast and expand their pupils' knowledge and understanding of how the Second World War affected local people and other European allied populations.
Bomb shelters, in particular, were compared as Malta was extensively bombed, while Inverness was not.
The Highland pupils were also involved in attempting to construct an Anderson Shelter, using original plans supplied by the Imperial War Museum, while Maltese pupils visited cave shelters and provided accounts and photographs to Inverness.
"Cauldeen Primary and Dun Salv Portelli Primary in Malta have created, from scratch, materials which involved accessing our local communities for first-hand historical evidence, and the thoughts and feelings of local people who lived through this pivotal time in 20th-century history," says Mr Glass.
"By exchanging these materials as well as making them available to all our partner schools, there has been an opportunity to compare and contrast experiences, expand pupils' knowledge and understanding on a broader European level.
"Our combined curricular material has been converted to web-based curricular resources online as part of www.WW2inthehighlands.co.uk."
Pupils were excited by their contacts with the partner schools and always eagerly awaiting the next email containing photographs or transcripts, says Mr Glass.
"They were really motivated to research, record (both in writing and digitally) their interviews and visits and prepare material for their partner schools."
Children of all academic abilities were involved in aspects of the project, using digital camcorders and digital still cameras, researching newsreels and photographs, creating presentations and graphics, transcribing, using editing software or helping with the construction.
"Learning and teaching was taking place through an array of both moving and still visual images, first-hand oral history, written accounts, pupils developing listening and questioning skills, external visits to sites and handling of artefacts - and all of this learning was taking place within the context of an international European dimension," says Mr Glass.
Schools involved in eTwinning determine the nature of their partnership, the length of time and the level of commitment they wish to make.
Partnerships can be short or long term, for focused projects or broad-based cross-curricular and cultural activities. At the moment there are more than 6,500 registered eTwinning schools in Europe, primary and secondary, with nearly 600 in the UK.
Mr Glass regards eTwinning as an invaluable opportunity to initiate contacts to support projects on Europe, local and national culture or citizenship and inject a practical and motivational element into the curriculum.
"As partnerships are electronic, it is free to schools and the focus is on curricular and cultural development rather than ICT itself.
"eTwinning is an easy, free and effective way of looking for and working with partner schools in the rest of Europe," he says.
www.etwinning.netwww.britishcouncil.orgetwinningSETTeTwinning: Using ICT to Support Curriculum Projects Across Europe by George Glass of Cauldeen Primary and Susan Linklater of the British Council, Wednesday, 9.30am