Learning in many Wii ways

8th July 2011 at 01:00
A special school's innovative use of technology has sparked pupils' interest and resulted in a Scottish Education Award, as Elizabeth Buie reports

Walk into Hollybrook School in Glasgow and you will find technology being used in some way or another to enhance virtually every aspect of learning and teaching.

The special school's innovative work was recognised last month at the annual Scottish Education Awards when it won the Learning Through Technology Award.

What is particularly remarkable about Hollybrook's work is that the vast bulk of its equipment has been bought as a result of successful partnerships, including: KPMG - donation of 10 "refreshed" laptops, two PCs and twinning support; pupil CV development support from Halifax Bank of Scotland; editing software train from STV; and collaboration with Cedars School of Excellence on the use of iPads in the classroom.

Hollybrook's interest in the potential of technology to support learning was sparked by Scottish Business in the Community's "Seeing is Believing" project some five or six years ago. That led to a group of business people visiting the school to see if Hollybrook had made a business case for support.

"We were told beforehand we might get a TV or two computers. But we told them what our aspirations were - we wanted an ICT suite, plus a careers library. They discussed it among themselves and offered us absolutely everything we asked for," says Mary Farrell, Hollybrook's headteacher.

That was the start of a remarkable journey. Mrs Farrell was anxious that ASL schools should be eligible for Prince's Trust technology awards - so when Prince Charles visited the school, she made her case and won inclusion on the programme.

Hollybrook is a school for some 140 S1-6 pupils with moderate learning difficulties, many of whom are on the autistic spectrum.

"My job is not to think about the technology for today but the technology of tomorrow. What will our young people need to be able to be out there in the world? What will technology be years from now? But also, what technology have they got now?" she said.

She had watched children who were not good at extended writing but good at texting, so she asked the technology teacher, William Brown, to carry out a pupil technology audit.

She was, she says, "amazed" at what the audit produced - a far wider range of ICT equipment and "techno-familiarity" than she expected. So she decided to build on these existing skills and to bring them into pupils' learning.

Game for learning across the curriculum

- The PE department uses the Nintendo Wii, Wii Fit and Wiimote Plus hardware, in conjunction with various forms of software, to supplement traditional activities. For example, basketball and tennis are supplemented by electronic activities which allow pupils to record and analyse their technique. The PE software catalogue has been expanded to give pupils access to the EA Sports Active 2 system as well as Wii Your Shape. PE staff recently acquired a GPS-enabled Android smartphone which they use to track cross-country runners during training; it is also used to take pictures and videos of pupils for later analysis.

- The maths department has targeted S2 classes using the Nintendo DS and various software titles to focus on mental arithmetic. Each pupil is given a DS which is wirelessly linked to the other DSs in the class; so popular has this proved that pupils plead to extend class time into interval and lunchtime.

- English teachers use the DS in a similar fashion with narrative-driven, language-themed games which support pupils in character recognition and the development of sentence structure.

- The music department uses the Nintendo Wii with the Rock Band kit to develop two-way co-ordination - skills which are transferable when learning to play drums, guitar and keyboard.

- In business education, S4 pupils sell items belonging to school staff on eBay and earn a small percentage of any profit made.

- Global citizenship education includes establishing links with schools in Germany, France and Spain. Hollybrook plans to link up with Plockton High's Computers for Africa project, which would allow it to promote the use of technology for information exchange in Scotland and abroad.

- The whole school uses a pound;50 portable interactive whiteboard, which staff designed themselves, using Smoothboard software, a Nintendo Wii remote and an infrared pen.

Help is at hand

Hollybrook also runs an information cafe to support parents and former pupils who may have lost their jobs and are struggling to re-engage with the world of work.

Many parents of autistic pupils can find themselves isolated and need support to find employment, too.

The cafe offers internet access, guidance on how to prepare CVs, advice on work, benefits and housing, and various aspects of skills training, recognising that even working in a shop requires the ability to operate an electronic till and that most jobs now ask for online applications.

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