The Scottish Learning Festival inspired one teacher to enhance the curriculum in a new way, writes Miranda Fettes
In the computer suite at Woodhill Primary in Bishopbriggs, East Dunbartonshire, P6 children have been downloading podcasts and writing weblogs. The podcasts are lists of French words which the children translate into English; the blogs are the children's comments on the project.
The upper primary children are well versed in downloading audio files on to iPods and writing logs to be published on a website.
"It started at SETT (the Scottish Learning Festival) last year, when I saw some examples of weblogging and podcasting," explains Susan Buchanan, the principal teacher in charge of information technology. "I started to explore it."
A blog, she explains, is an online journal which can be accessed worldwide.
"It allows you to share your thoughts, your ideas, your work and get responses from other people." A podcast is an audio file which is uploaded to the internet and can be downloaded to your computer or digital music player.
Mrs Buchanan contacted Fiona Andrew at Learning and Teaching Scotland and they began putting together a project to enhance French lessons for two P6 classes.
The local authority enterprise budget provided for two iPods, which the school matched with two more out of its own budget.
The French teacher and classroom assistant were shown how to record French podcasts and upload listening exercises and games on to a website. The children could then download the files on to computers, using iTunes, or on to an MP3 player and translate the words into English on their worksheets.
"The idea was for me to start the project but for it to be sustainable,"
explains Mrs Buchanan.
"We use ICT to enhance the curriculum. We don't have a dedicated slot for it in the timetable; ICT skills are just acquired by use.
"Blogging and podcasting gives the kids an audience; people can access it outwith school and it allows interaction and feedback.
"It's much more interesting and exciting for them, using the computer and iPods. They don't see it as school work.
"They can learn at their own pace, so it allows more independent working.
They can do it at home; they can do it in the library."
One child's blog read: "It is much better using the iPod than being in class because we get to go out and learn French on the iPod."
"It's a valuable way to learn," says Ms Andrew. "Using the technology seemed to get the children more motivated in what they were doing. A lot said it was ideal that they could work at their own pace; they didn't have to listen to a teacher in class.
"Like any technology, you need to educate teachers how to use it."
The most time-consuming element of the project was the initial setting up, Mrs Buchanan says. Once the website was running, the pupils were confident working with iTunes and iPods and the classroom assistant was timetabled to support the project, it ran smoothly.
"Time needs to be given to a member of staff to edit and upload the sound files and website," says Mrs Buchanan. "Woodhill has been training the classroom assistant to do this and time will be built into her timetable to help maintain the project."
Podcasting lends itself particularly well to language areas of the curriculum, since it uses sound files, she says.
"The value of it is to support learning in any of the curricular areas that it lends itself to. You could post homework tasks online; classwork could be published on it; you could blog about school trips; it could be used to link up with partner schools."
Woodhill Primary intends to build on the approach, hoping to expand the website and buy more iPods for the school.
Mrs Buchanan is just beginning work on an English project, linked with five other schools in the authority and using blogging with P5s. She hopes to develop podcasting so that the pupils become involved in recording them.