Quality at the dockside

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
Dorothy Walker learns how the adoption of whiteboards led to a change in teaching practice at Royal Docks Community School

When Tom Smith wanted to assess the value of his interactive whiteboards, he persuaded his teaching staff to take part in a time and motion study. And he found that, thanks to the whiteboards, his colleagues were getting 20-25 per cent more teaching time in their classrooms.

Smith is deputy head at the Royal Docks Community School in London's Docklands and since the school has 54 whiteboards, the amount of time saved is impressive. Housed in a building which opened three years ago, the 11-16 school is truly a one-off. "We have asked Ofsted to benchmark us against another school," says Smith, "but they can't find anyone else like us."

Smith was searching for innovative technology for the school when a flyer from whiteboard supplier Promethean landed on his desk. "As soon as I saw a demonstration, I knew this would change teaching," he says. "Many of our students are visual learners and this was obviously going to be a huge advantage for them."

Strongly inclusive in its approach, Royal Docks serves a diverse range of needs; its 1,200 pupils speak a total of 48 languages and the proportion of students with special needs is 10 times the national average. Smith says:

"Literacy levels are improving, but they are still low on intake. This year, 117 of our 240 new pupils are on a reading scheme as they have a reading age of nine or below."

The students relish the whiteboards - particularly so when instructing new teachers in their use. Smith says: "Give new recruits the electronic pen and they have a panic. By the end of the day they're saying: 'It was fine - the children showed me what to do.'" Teachers go on to receive extensive training during school in-service training days.

Pupils make extensive use of the boards, sharing work and presenting it to their classmates. Smith says: "Children are very good at listening to other children. In my foundation maths class, they spend 20 minutes of every lesson working on the board. When they enter the room, lots of techniques can be used to gain their attention. I might have a ticker-tape display running across the top of the board showing five questions and answers. They have to decide which of the answers is wrong." Other teachers use the ticker tape to display keywords which have to be inserted in sentences or pictures on the board.

Royal Docks has 600 PCs on its network and pupils can use them to consult the whiteboard presentations they have seen in class and check out their homework brief. Teachers transfer the presentations they have built in ACTIVstudio, Promethean's whiteboard software, into PowerPoint for publication.

Smith says: "By building the flipcharts as they need them, a number of departments have got their entire scheme of work and all lessons on the network. I wanted to install as many whiteboards as possible as I believed they would encourage teachers to share resources and good practice. That has proved the case - it has been magnificent.

"At first it is hard work getting all the resources into board form, but - providing the Government doesn't change the goalposts as regards the national curriculum - it can save so much preparation time in future. And our time and motion studies show it also provides 20 to 25 per cent more teaching time in class."

He cites an example of a geography class consulting a map of Africa. "Traditionally, the teacher would get out a big map, hold it up and ask the pupils to turn to page 26 in their atlases. In our studies, it was taking a minute just to find the page. Now the map appears at the touch of a button and there are no interruptions so behaviour is better."

Smith chose Promethean boards because the software that came with them "was streets ahead of anything else". "I don't know whether that is still the case, but the many visitors who come here, even those with other boards, are very impressed."

Twelve boards were installed when the building opened and Smith's goal - to have a board in every room within three years - has been achieved. "People often wonder how we did it, but there are ways of raising money. There are standards funds and National Grid for Learning funds and we put those into whiteboards. The first 12 boards and the network came from our pound;1.3 million for furniture and equipment and we made savings by refurbishing all the furniture from the school's previous building. And the head and myself save money by teaching a substantial timetable ourselves. It can be done."

Resources

Promethean ACTIVboard interactive whiteboard. From pound;1,295 (board only) to pound;3,995 for a package including board, projector and installation.

BETT stand D66, V60. Tel: 0870 2413194. www.promethean.co.uk

Royal Docks uses two Promethean software packages developed for use with whiteboards:

Boardworks

Presentations for key stages 3 and 4 maths, English, physics, chemistry, biology, history, geography and French. Designed for use with ACTIVstudio or PowerPoint, the material can be customised and provides images, diagrams, animations, activities and text-based resources for use in other presentations.

pound;299 for single subject, pound;2,500 for eight subjects.

From Promethean, as above

Raising Achievement at 11-14

Created in collaboration with Robert Powell Publications, the software covers 53 topics in science, history and geography. Provides keywords, games, extended writing tasks and multiple-choice tests and includes games based on the TV series Blockbusters. Promethean's ACTIVote handsets enable games players to vote for their answers, which are automatically marked and the results analysed.

pound;116 for single subject, pound;416 for three subjects.

Tel: 01785 664600. www.rpowellpub.co.uk

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