New technology has never looked so good, been such fun, or rocked so much

31st July 2009 at 01:00

At Elrick Primary in Aberdeenshire, drawings come to life. Pupils compete in Olympic sports, join rock bands are given dogs to care for.

So how do they do it - magic dust? Not quite. The school has embraced new technology, which is why it won the ICT learning prize at this year's Scottish Education Awards.

Headteacher Louise Malcolm is clear that computer games are a hook, a motivator and a way into learning - but by no means the centre of learning. "We had to explore how we would use games and technology," says the former ICT co-ordinator. "It was never going to be about it being OK to just play a game. Everybody had to know what they wanted out of it in the way of learning."

So when P2 pupils were given their own Nintendogs, virtual pets they had to feed and care for, the game was used as a springboard to learning. They wrote blogs about their dogs, went out walking with real dogs, learned about puppy care from a vet and had visits from the dog warden.

Similarly, when pupils from P1-7 use adventure game Myst or animation package Crazy Talk, it is as a means of stimulating their imaginations and therefore their creative writing.

In the lead up to the Beijing Olympics, the pupils were competing in their own Games - taking part in running, swimming, hurdles and javelin - using the Wii game Mario amp; Sonic at the Olympic Games. The Olympics theme was used to teach geography, maths, science and language.

Even PlayStation 2 game Guitar Hero - a bit like karaoke for guitars - has been used in class. When it was introduced to P7 some years ago, pupils not only formed bands but organised tours, learning about the cultures of the countries they planned to visit, the cost of booking flights and transport and how much money they were likely to make from a gig.

More recently, Guitar Hero has been used to ease the transition to secondary school. For more than a month, P7s worked with S1 pupils at Westhill Academy to explore the science of sound. They joined up on three occasions, with one lesson in the labs at the academy and a battle of the bands held at Elrick. Inspired, the six schools in Musselburgh Grammar's cluster have copied Elrick.

Dancemats are also great, says Ms Malcolm. "They're in every class. For example, P1 use them for numbers and phonics, to work out sounds and for rhyme. Questions come across the top of the whiteboard, they read the question and put their foot on the mat to select the answer. When they get a score and say things like, `I got 44 but you only got 38', it allows them to recognise what's a bigger number."

But how does the school afford it? In some areas, such as replacing the need to purchase workbooks, it is saving money, says Ms Malcolm, but by and large there was the will to embed technology in the curriculum on the part of the authority, the school and parents. The new technology was introduced gradually, allowing all teachers to get on board. "You need trail-blazers but now all staff are taking it forward to a level they feel comfortable with."

Vaughan Jennings, a senior education officer at Aberdeenshire Council, who nominated the school for the award, said: "While many would imagine that the games-based learning approach gives licence for an unstructured `anything goes' classroom culture, nothing could be further from the truth at Elrick.

"Instead, each activity is carefully planned and aligned to specific learning outcomes. The work with Myst and Crazy Talk, for example, has provided pupils with a rich imaginative framework for writing. As a result, they write very much more and produce a quality of work far beyond what would normally be expected."

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