ICT on the road

18th June 2004 at 01:00
Ray Fleming, and his familyconclude their travels with bags packed with technology

As your year draws to a close, your mind turns to what you will do in the first few days of summer. That's what's happening for my family - except in reverse. We're thinking, "What will happen when our year-long adventure ends?" For the past 12 months, we've been making our way around the world.

Our children (an eight- and a four-year-old) have not been sitting in a classroom. So, how have they got on, and how has technology contributed to their learning?

We set off knowing that both children would learn a lot from their experiences, even if it wasn't strictly national curriculum. Our Tablet PC was intended to provide a route to some of the formal learning that needed to happen. Before we left England, the school advised us to concentrate on numeracy as Charlotte would be missing Year 3 work, so our software has focused on that. My wife and I are not teachers, so we needed help to put everything in a proper framework to make sure Charlotte won't be at a disadvantage when she rejoins her class.

Using the RM Maths system has helped enormously as Charlotte has had a formal lesson every day, travel plans allowing. By pushing her progress forward and advancing to new topics as her understanding has grown, she's been guided through the Year 3 National Numeracy Strategy into Year 4 work, and even some Year 5 concepts. In fact, the pace may have been too fast, with challenges that have frustrated her. Here, our over-reliance on the software was a problem. Technology is powerful and clever, but it's not the same as having a teacher. A computer doesn't know when a pupil is frustrated. It doesn't know when to back off. This is not a problem in school as software offers just one more in a wide range of learning tools - but here it was often the only method of learning.

Once we'd realised this, we changed things. We put more emphasis on games to reinforce ideas, and tried to teach some concepts that were peripheral to those learnt on the computer. This was easy in a normal travelling day.

Learning about time is powerful when you're in an Asian hotel lobby with clocks showing the time in six countries. And understanding hundreds, thousands and millions becomes easier in, say, Vietnam, where a pound is worth 28,000 Vietnamese Dong.

This mixed style of learning works well, and the software helps with testing and tracking progress against numeracy objectives. Both children have become more confident with technology - with emails, the internet and graphics. Without it, we could not have delivered Charlotte's curriculum this year or checked her progress. Indeed, it has become essential for the whole family - for storing digital photographs, editing videos to send home, keeping in touch by email and updating our website. Our four-year-old, Emily, uses the computer for fun games and to dictate her emails, and Charlotte loves reading the emails we receive from friends.

Technology has become a valuable friend to us all, and we couldn't have achieved all we have done this year without it. Our only wish? That somebody would invent a portable computer that really weighs nothing - because after 15,000 miles and 12 countries, even one and a half kilos doesn't seem light any more.

You can check out our web diary at www.rfleming.net

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