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8th September 2000 at 01:00
Trinity Academy, Edinburgh

Biology is nowadays the most dynamic of the sciences and if school biology is to retain credibility it must offer more than naming of flower parts and earthworm dissections. "Some teachers say high-tech equipment is too expensive," says principal teacher Tony Ablett, "but using a digital sensor, saving the data, downloading it and playing with it is the kind of thing pupils see in the media, and it's what they want at school."

A particularly useful gizmo is the flexi-cam which you can attach to a microscope. It improves enormously their understanding of what they're looking at." The class watches the large monitor in amazement as he extracts an egg and a profusion of wriggling sperm from a little hermaphrodite worm. "What do you mean 'Yuk'?" he tells them. "This is gorgeous stuff!"

The Support for Learning department at Northfield Academy employs a scanner, a computer package and a voice synthesizer to help pupils with reading difficulties. They also gather and store information on every pupil from all the feeder primaries. In English and maths an individualised computer learning system has been used for several years.

Teachers talkof a range of benefits: the disappearance of discipline problems, the ready diagnosis of weaknesses and strengths, and the automatic generation of pupil records and reports. Pupils too are enthusiastic. They get the undivided attention a teacher can provide only briefly. They work at their own pace without pressure. And unlike human beings the system has endless patience.

Kilmartin, in Argyll, once the heart of the ancient Scots kingdom of Dalriada, is now a sparsely populated valley, and Kilmartin Primary consists of just two composite classes. Both make very good use of ICT. In the upper school a project in imaginative writing is under way with several schools around the region collaborating, using emails and fax. In the lower school, children are working in groups to gather material from the Web and also using a digital camera from the local museum.

"Groups discuss and decide how they will tackle a topic and who does what," says acting head Archie Graham. "When they've completed it, they present their findings to the class. The younger children learn a great deal by working with the older ones through imitation, demonstration and non-verbal interaction."

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