Primary teachers in the Borders have a rich topic bank for 5-14 at their fingertips, writes Su Clark
Some teachers can be a bit nervous of spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and other delights of information and communication technology. The risk of technological humiliation in front of 30 pupils is enough to keep them away from the computer. So, contrary to current methods of embedding ICT within the curriculum, they leave new technology to the ICT teacher.
Training is essential for these technophobes and can help overcome their fears, but once a teacher returns to the safety of his or her classroom it is easy to let computer wizardry slip from the learning plan and instead get back to the tried and tested, and not always the most successful, textbook and blackboard approach.
Scottish Borders is determined to push ICT into the primary curriculum, and has produced a curriculum topic data bank, with resources that complement many of the subjects covered in class. It has been available for the past year, and is constantly expanded.
"The topic bank has been developed over the past three or four years," says Liz Marroni, principal teacher of ICT (primary), who is based at the Melrose education centre.
"A teacher would ask me to develop a lesson plan for her pupils, and we would cover, say, electricity using computer skills. It was an ICT lesson but its subject was something that the children had to learn about."
Over the years, Mrs Marroni and her colleague, Jo King, collated those ICT lessons to form the topic data bank.
"These lessons were developed for a specific age, customised for a particular class, but now we've made them available to every teacher via our shared networks," continues Mrs Marroni.
No longer just ICT lessons, the information has been transformed into a collection of resources to support learning in the class on most curriculumsubjects.
"There are between 70 and 80 folders, with 750 megabytes of data," says Mrs Marroni.
They are filled with information; images that can be transferred to presentations or simply displayed on a large screen in the class for greater effect; audio files and pdf files. Lists of websites are included to direct the teacher to further resources, many of them interactive.
A teacher who wants to cover France can show pictures, navigate through suggested websites, play an audio file of the national anthem and run through a short PowerPoint presentation.
When studying ancient Greece, the teacher is given links to online sites covering the subject, plus pictures to show the children.
With some of the resources, children are developing ICT skills while learning a core curriculum subject. One topic, for example, looks at animal camouflage, suggesting how the teacher might approach the subject and which ICT tools to use to make the lesson interesting.
The topics are linked up with the national guidelines on primary levels, and complement the progression system developed for local authorities.
"The data bank is one way of encouraging a teacher to approach a certain topic in a creative way and to involve ICT in the lesson plans," says Mrs Marroni. "They can use the resources to enhance their teaching plans. And we find this contributes to staff development."
For example, fear of spreadsheets can be alleviated by using the resource with the pupils.
Mrs Marroni has developed systems where teachers can use spreadsheets to collect data on geography and the weather. Using internet connections, they can take the children through a process of collecting temperatures of different towns and cities, finding out how much sunshine they get each day and how much rain.
"There are maps to show where each of the towns are," continues Mrs Marroni.
"All the data can be collected on spreadsheets, and then the children can be encouraged to come to conclusions about why Stornoway is wetter than Kelso."
Mrs Marroni still takes large group ICT classes, either at schools with their own computer suites or, for smaller schools, at the education centre; but the use of ICT has become much more ingrained in the way teachers teach in the Borders.
The feedback from the teachers and pupils, collected on performance sheets after every session, shows that they like the approach and are happy to use the topic bank in their classes.
Teachers in other local authorities have also been happy to use it, due to information sharing between education departments. Some Aberdeen teachers already have access to it, and delegates to Mrs Marroni's seminars have left enriched with the bank and comforted in the knowledge that they have a resource to make using ICT in class much simpler.
Developing a Curriculum Topic Bank by Liz Marroni of the Scottish Borders Council, Wednesday, 4.45pm