New lease of life for ancient languages

27th May 2005 at 01:00
Carolyn O'Grady visits a school where new technology has revived interest in Latin and Greek

While the Government's pound;4.5 million investment in a media project to revive Latin in schools has been reported to be suffering from technical setbacks, some schools are demonstrating that modern technology could reverse the decline in the number of pupils taking Latin.

One school where languages and the culture of ancient Rome and Greece are proving a potent mix with modern technology is Nower Hill High School in Harrow. When the school purchased its first interactive whiteboard three years ago, it wasn't destined for the maths or ICT department, but for the main classics classroom. About 200 out of 300 Year 9 Nower Hill students currently choose Latin (they are offered a choice of two from German, French or Latin), having all done a cross-curricular course in classical civilisation in Year 8.

This year about 100 are doing GCSE Latin. Ancient Greek is taught to a Year 8 gifted and talented group, but it is hoped to extend the subject into Year 9. In the spring term all Year 8 students are given an introductory lesson in Latin to help them choose their options. The style and delivery of the lesson was a factor for many students who opted for the subject.

Nower Hill's classics department's love affair with new technology began when the school was chosen as one of several to pilot the Government-funded Cambridge Course Latin E-Learning Resource.

Head of classics Julie Wilkinson says: "We started by booking the computer room and using the materials for individualised and independent learning.

But it came to the point when we wanted to exploit them as a teacher-led resource, so we bought an interactive whiteboard and with it completely changed the focus to whole-class teaching." Since then the school has invested in 48 interactive whiteboards plus mounted dataprojectors in almost every classroom.

The Cambridge resource has given the school a wealth of material, and is "having a really positive effect in other trial schools," says Will Griffiths, director of the Schools Classics Project. But an equally rich source of material at Nower Hill is the internet and, using their laptops, "staff have spent hours creating software, which they can share with other teachers," says Julie Wilkinson.

In the main classics classroom, entered through Ionic columns capped with a triangular pediment, deputy headteacher Chris Livesey is delivering a Latin lesson to Year 9 students. He skips lightly through a series of school-made exercises, used to reinforce knowledge of key vocabulary and including drag and drop exercises for which individual students are called up to the board.

A video segment on Roman culture follows. Quintus, a young Roman, is seen talking nervously in English about how he has to demonstrate his discus-throwing prowess that day. Chris pauses the sequence to point out features from the aerial view of the palaestra, a public space in ancient Greece and Rome where athletes trained and performed. The benefits the technology offers are evident. No frantic shuffling of paper, no waiting while teacher writes on the board. The lesson moves seamlessly from PowerPoint presentation to video clip to exercises. A touch of the whiteboard pen produces a question, an answer, a piece of text or anything else that Chris has saved for use. He can display Latin text on the screen, with or without translation; highlight and move words or phrases; and save notes or lists written on the whiteboard to use later.

Ancient civilisations are brought to life and student expectations of how people lived are challenged by video clips like the Quintus episode and material from the web, including aerial photos and virtual tours of ancient temples. For non-specialist teachers the whiteboard-based approach has proved a life-saver. "Without it I don't think I would have had the confidence," says Sylvie Goffaux, who is in charge of French and hadn't previously taught Latin. "The whole Latin course was available on the network for use with the whiteboards, including all the grammar notes," she adds.

For Sarah Holliday, a specialist Latin trainee teacher who has trawled the web for resources, "use of the board can also be a very effective classroom management tool because students love using the interactive whiteboard pen to do an exercise at the board or to click on a PowerPoint presentation."

It engaged and focused them. Students were also encouraged to create their own PowerPoint presentations to show on the board. For students, Latin has become pleasurable. A typical comment is 14-year-old Dhrusha's: "It's fun, it's enjoyable, and I like learning about Roman culture. And it will be useful if I decide to do an English degree." She intends to do Latin at GCSE.

* The DfES-funded Cambridge Latin Course E-Learning Resource is the result of a collaboration between Granada Learning, Cambridge University Press and the Cambridge School Classics Project.

www.cambridge.orgukeducationsecondaryclc

RESOURCES

www.classicspage.com - fun activities.

www.bbc.co.ukschoolsancientgreece www.museumoflondon.org.uk

www.stoa.orgmetis for classical civilisation at Year 10.

www.jact.org - Joint Association of Classical Teachers.

www.j-progs.com - materials produced by classics teacher Julian Morgan.

Registered for eLearning credits.

CIRCE

The CIRCE project has gathered information from six countries about electronic resources for teaching classics. www.circe.be features information written by CIRCE UK representative Julian Morgan

Email: julian@j-progs.com.

Tel: 07986 584867

WHITEBOARD TIPS

Nower Hill teachers' hints

* Don't use the interactive whiteboard just for the sake of it. The novelty value will soon wear off unless there are sound educational benefits.

* Remember the importance of colour and images when annotating and highlighting text.

* Trawl the web - there are some very good visual resources for classics there.

* Involve the pupils - let them come up and orchestrate activities on the whiteboard while you act merely as "guide on the side".

* Save activities you have used earlier so they're accessible to pupils at other times.

* Swap home-grown resources with other classics teachers both in your school and in others.

* Don't be shy: observe interactive whiteboard good practice in other departments or in other schools.

* Don't worry about the pupils knowing more than you - they (generally) want to help and can often tell you what type of interactive techniques work well in other subject areas.

* Don't try to squeeze in too much text or make the text too small so pupils cannot see it from the back of the classroom.

* Don't forget to practise. Remember learning how to write on the whitechalk board when you began teaching? This is no different.

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