How Smarties helped pupils develop taste for spreadsheets

3rd August 2007 at 01:00
Researchers say ICT can transform learning, but teachers must direct its use.Adi Bloom reports

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY can transform the way pupils learn and develop their investigative skills, but researchers say independent use can be wasted effort.

So teachers must learn to use it to best effect.

The researchers from Bristol university observed around 60 teachers in 10 schools to see how they were implementing ICT in class. The aim was to recognise the ways it can aid learning.

The most technology-aware schools were using the internet to create or participate in knowledge websites such as Wikipedia.

The researchers also worked with teachers, introducing them to programs that provided access to specialist areas, such as film-making, music composition and 3D design.

Year 6 pupils used computer programs to analyse the structure and etymology of words.

As a result, their scores in old-fashioned spelling tests improved.

Year 4 pupils learnt how to present data through spreadsheets during an investigation into the distribution of colours in a tube of Smarties.

Year 9 pupils used specialist software to study geometrical proof. And both primary and secondary pupils used computer programs to compose music.

Many of the hi-tech learning methods were influenced by pupils' experiences at home. Children expect to use search engines in order to find information or to handle data using spreadsheets.

The researchers said: "Teachers should encourage students to build on their out-of-school learning with ICT."

But the researchers said individual, computer-based work can lead to pupils spending hours accumulating entirely irrelevant knowledge. For example, several secondary pupils were instructed to use the internet to research the Renaissance. Instead, they spent their time developing a project on Florence in the United States.

And primary pupils, using specialist software to investigate spelling rules, often constructed incorrect rules.

The researchers concluded that pupils are unlikely to move from informal knowledge gathering to formal schooling without proper guidance. They said: "Without the support of a teacher, students are unlikely to develop knowledge of mathematical proof from knowledge of everyday reasoning, knowledge of the Italian Renaissance from knowledge of popular culture ... or knowledge of science from game-like simulation software."

Schools have responded to the drive for information technology by buying expensive equipment but at the expense of support for the teachers expected to use this equipment, the researchers said. They suggest creating networking communities in which teachers and researchers would work in partnership, designing and evaluating ICT-based learning initiatives.

"Students can work with ICT for extended periods of time, investigating their own questions and experimenting with ideas," they said.

"Effective teaching and learning with ICT involves finding ways of building bridges between individual and idiosyncratic and everyday learning."

* ros.sutherland@bristol.ac.uk

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