From little Acorns big things grow

9th March 2001 at 00:00
When David Baugh first started teaching with computers, he had an Acorn 3000 and didn't know what to do with it. How things have changed. Dorothy Walker talks to an ICT in Practice Award-winning teacher.

In recent months, visitors have been turning up regularly to watch David Baugh in his Denbigh classroom. They have been evaluating the contenders for top prizes for educational information and communications technology (ICT) - and they judged Baugh to be a winner.

At last October's Teaching Awards, Baugh stepped on to the stage to collect his prize for most creative use of ICT in a primary school. And at this year's BETT show, the teacher and ICT co-ordinator from Frongoch School was also named as primary subject teaching winner in the Becta ICT in Practice Awards, sponsored by The TES and BT.

Baugh first realised the power of ICT when, at the age of 35, the former school bursar began his teaching career. "I found myself in a classroom with 30 children and an Acorn 3000 in a corner," he says. "I hadn't a clue what to do with it."

The turning point came with a visit from an inspector, who spent a morning watching Baugh and his class use the computer. "At the end he ripped me apart," says Baugh. "He told me everything I was doing wrong. But when I asked how I could do it properly, he said it was not his job to advise."

Determined to get to grips with the subject, Baugh set about researching how ICT could be best applied, reading all he could and taking every opportunity to watch other teachers in action. "At first I was just clutching at straws," he admits. "But eventually I began to reach some conclusions which I still believe hold true today."

He read about multimedia, and began experimenting with a free program for producing courseware such as on-screen quizzes. And after watching some of his pupils navigate their way confidently through the questions, he gave them the opportunity to put together the quizzes themselves. "I began to realise how important it was for children to do creative things with ICT, rather than simply reacting to it, as they would with TV," he explains. "I wanted to encourage them to use computers as their means of expression right across the curriculum."

But Baugh knew there was a major problem. To make his plan work, he believed the school should have at least one computer for every six of its 240 pupils. In reality it fell far short of this target, and there were no funds to spare. So he simply began advertising for would-be donors in computing magazines. "Cash-strapped school urgently needs computers - can you help?" read the ads. And they proved remarkably effective, with a steady stream of machines arriving from generous companies. "I stopped the ads a year ago, and the machines are still coming," Baugh adds.

Determined that every pupi would benefit, he had to manage the allocation of computer time very closely. "I had to ensure that every child had an equal opportunity to use ICT. Otherwise, I found that more time went to those who were most able, or had special needs, or who finished their work quickly."

His research had shown him how ICT encouraged children to collaborate, equipping them with tools to tackle complex problem solving and modelling. And he realised that if they were to make the most of the power at their disposal, he would have to change his style of teaching. "Instead of thinking how I could fit ICT into my normal teaching," he says, "I had to create more of a collaborative exercise between me and the child."

Baugh admits it was a daunting prospect, but he rose to the challenge by focusing on a single, term-long project as the test-ground for a new approach in the classroom. "It was about a local threatened environment, and the children modelled different scenarios," he says. "It was a small project that I could cope with - it didn't take over my entire life. It enabled me to see how you could work round ICT, and I was able to build on the experience.

"I believe the main contribution ICT can make is to encourage collaboration, and that children should be working in small groups, coming to conclusions themselves. I give them the tools to reach the conclusions."

Baugh is also a strong promoter of co-operation between teachers. Two years ago, he set up the Mac Learning Community, now a network of 270 teaching professionals who share resources and ideas.

Last year he was named as an Apple distinguished educator, the third in the country. The award brought Frongoch into a collaborative network of schools across Europe and made it part of a Net-linked video production project celebrating equality and diversity in countries ranging from Turkey to Norway.

Baugh may be modest about his awards, but they have produced much-needed funding. In the teaching awards, Baugh won pound;23,500 for Frongoch, with the head, Jeremy Griffiths, winning the school another pound;3,500 in a separate award for leadership. To all those close to Frongoch, the money is well deserved. Recently, the time came to network the school's computers. Rather than rely on the meagre funds available, Baugh, Griffiths and a team of parents did the job themselves.

"We were offered pound;2,700 of NGFL funds, compared with pound;10,000-pound;12,000 for an equivalent school in England," Baugh explains. "So we did the donkey work ourselves, and used no money. I also did it in my daughter's school - it's a catching habit!" Asked how the prize money will be used, he replies with confidence: "We want to double it through a matched funding project."

Frongoch School Learning Community

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