Revolution of talk and new technology

28th September 2007 at 01:00
"Take a look around," said Laurie O'Donnell, director of learning and technology at Learning and Teaching Scotland. "What strikes you most is not the technology. It's the groups of teachers talking."

Casting an eye over the hall where the Scottish Learning Festival was being held in Glasgow's SECC, he added: "Teachers have a very isolating job and it's relentless. These two days are high-quality CPD. They are a great opportunity for teachers to get together and talk about ideas they have heard at a seminar or a really good resource they have seen in the hall."

For Arthur Lynas, who teaches at Kelvindale Primary in Glasgow, one talking point was the advances in technology: "Things have moved on a lot since last year," he said. "I like all the new stuff for the Smartboard, and the software on reading and writing from Smart Learning a different company.

"But I've spent most time so far on Accelerated Reader. This uses a computer program to learn what level a child is reading at, then finds books that match their reading level exactly. It's a great idea. A lot of kids don't read be- cause they can't find books at the right level."

John Hughes, director of ICT at St George's School in Edinburgh, is a regular visitor to the festival. "Key products we use that keep developing include ClickView, which is really good. We're a Smartboard user and I like the new sliding Smartboard that goes up and down so kids in the primary can reach. It's fully counter-balanced a lovely piece of technology," he said.

"We already use a virtual learning environment, so I was interested to see that Glow [the Scottish schools digital network] seems to be developing nicely. That will have a big impact on Scottish education."

Other teachers were less switched on by Glow. "I went to the seminars last year and it was all: 'This is going to happen soon' but it didn't," said Anne Quig, principal teacher at Kilmaurs Primary. "So this year, I've been to seminars on literacy, ICT and interactive music which was fabulous.

"On the stands I've been looking at Mac software for the Bee-Bots [floor robots] we got recently. It's good value and lets the kids do practical work with the roamers, see it on the screen then print if off. It's first steps in programming."

Glow sceptics were also in evidence at Teachmeet the most popular of the festival fringe events where the format was seven-minute talks, any technology, no PowerPoint. Some fast-moving free spirits in Scottish education just did not like Glow's big corporate feel.

But without Glow, former director John Connell pointed out, no one could pull together any combination of educational users securely, stop re-inventing the wheel and create a "coherent digital landscape" for A Curriculum for Excellence.

On the positive side, at Teachmeet the event was bigger and better than ever, said Ollie Bray, acting depute head at Musselburgh Grammar. "It was good to hear about developments with games-based learning. Their new website is great. I also enjoyed the keynote from Stephen Heppell, which was visionary and inspiring."

The festival highlight for science teachers was the spotlight session Science Education: Evolution or Revolution, by Jack Jackson, former HMIE national science specialist.

"It has to be revolution," Professor Jackson concluded. "We've come a fair way in Scotland, but big changes are still needed in the attitude of teachers, the nature of lessons, the accommodation in our schools and most of all in the provision of high-quality CPD. That is the key."

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