Final piece of the puzzle

30th September 2005 at 01:00
Douglas Blane was at SETT2005 to see the exhibition and talk to teachers about their favourite highlights

Will it work?", a sceptical teacher asks Philip Rycroft, who has just signed a pound;37.5 million contract on behalf of the Scottish Executive for the final piece of a most ambitious jigsaw - the Scottish Schools Digital Network.

"Yes," replies the head of schools group at the Scottish Executive Education Department. "It is already working.

"The interconnect, the broadband network that links all local authorities - as well as the SQA and Learning and Teaching Scotland - has been in place since November 2003 and is already delivering serious benefits to schools.

The intranet is simply the final element, the functionality that goes around that pipe."

RM's chief executive, Tim Pearson, offers the perspective of the company now contracted to deliver that functionality: the secure learning environment, the video and audio conferencing tools and the collaboration software.

"What's happening in Scotland is more joined-up than elsewhere," he says.

"Some of the more advanced places in England are using some elements of some of the things we are now contracted to deliver. So we are building upon existing experience to create the Scottish solution. That's why we are confident it will work."

Away from national news, on the packed first day at SETT 2005, teachers are plentiful but pupils scarce. "Stands we've visited have been keen to get my kids into their demonstrations," says Chris Latimer, the headteacher at Crossmichael Primary in Dumfries and Galloway. "It makes them look more interesting.

"The kids are loving it. We particularly like these interactive voting systems that give you instant feedback on teaching and learning. One of those would go well with the interactive whiteboard I use every day."

Mr Latimer and his P5-P7 pupils are helping to launch History Maze from LT Scotland. "It's aimed at primary schools and has options from Wallace and Bruce to the Second World War," he explains. "You choose one and are transported back in time to find your way through a maze, solve problems and learn about people of that time. The kids enjoy the graphics and humour and like that the voices are Scottish."

At the Scottish Executive stand, a party of pupils from Thornlie Primary in Wishaw, has just launched, with considerable aplomb, national 3-18 guidelines on enterprise in education. Excellence through Enterprise sets the enterprise agenda for teachers in the wider context of A Curriculum for Excellence.

"Our teachers have all been trained and the whole school now does enterprise," says Jane Murphy, the school's information technology co-ordinator.

She is impressed by software from Sherston, such as Barnaby Bear and Fizzy's Numbers. "A wee man comes down in a balloon with a tartan kilt and talks in a Scottish voice," she explains. "We use it with the whiteboard and the kids love it."

SETT is no longer merely a teaching with technology show, but a learning festival for excellence and innovation in education and seems to have attracted this year an audience beyond ICT's community of the converted.

Marchia Bennie, the newly appointed development officer for modern languages in Fife, has struggled to find time as a principal teacher to learn what ICT could offer. "So, I'm here to learn what's out there to make languages more attractive, particularly for reluctant learners," she says.

"Pupils perceive languages as a difficult option and less relevant than other subjects.

"I've been impressed by Channel 4, which has developed its videos to provide interactive activities on the computer. That should make language learning more credible."

Mind-mapping is a valuable technique, says Ms Bennie, and Matchware's software product OpenMind should enhance its classroom appeal. "It will make it more attractive, particularly at the younger end, where it can be hard to get kids to focus with a blackboard."

Bernadette McCrory, the head at St John's Primary in Ayr, is impressed by the science transition project run by Setpoint and funded by the Scottish Executive, which helps teachers to support pupils making the move from primary to secondary school. The project provides instructions and a kit for dozens of simple but thought-provoking experiments.

"It sounds great," she says. "It connects to the curriculum and is teacher friendly, active and fun. This lets you do real science using everyday objects, like bottles and straws."

Coming fresh from delivering a seminar on using music to enhance learning, motivation and creativity, first-time visitor to SETT Mary Troup, the music specialist who is working with Glasgow's St Mungo Academy cluster of schools, likes the look of Wordshark from White Space. "A lot of kids we work with at the Listening Centre are dyslexic. They will enjoy this because it's based on games and play.

"I also like Dance eJay, which helps children to explore music-making independently of the teacher."

What will she remember most about her first visit? She ponders, then smiles: "That I learned to use this flash drive round my neck for the first time yesterday, saved my PowerPoint presentation on to it, plugged it into the computer in the seminar room here and it all worked perfectly!"


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