Abdul-Hayee Mershad is IT co-ordinator at Hermitage Primary School, east London. He also has a mixed-age class of pupils from Years 5 and 6, aged nine to 11.
The area is ethnically mixed, with large communities of white and Bangladeshi people, not, on the whole, very well-off. Both groups, says Abdul-Hayee, have difficulty writing up their topic work. "They tend to copy chunks of material straight off CDs or out of books, without actually researching it. What they know in science and the humanities is not so important, they seem to believe, as what they read in a book. "
Abdul-Hayee hit on the idea of using the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet grid to encourage the children to tabulate their findings. The subject: Tudor technology, following a class visit to the Geffrye Museum in east London, and interest aroused by the guide's talk.
The grid was divided into three columns: What We Know; What We Want To Know; and Results of Our Research. Four groups tackled the themes of Food Preparation, Kitchen Utensils, Food Production and the Life of Children. For 30 minutes each group wrote down what it already knew in the first column. Then they shared their results and were amazed to discover how much they knew.
The next stage was to construct questions which would enable them to find out more. This, says Abdul-Hayee, was the really interesting part for him.The children rapidly discovered that asking vague questions, such as, "What did they drink?" or "Where did they live?" were more difficult than specific questions such as "Why did they not drink water?" and "Did everyone live in the countrysid e?" Posing the questions also threw up more general questions such as, "What sort of food did rich people and poor people eat?"
Armed with their questions, the children went to the books and CD-Roms and discovered that books, with their indexes and headings, were much easier to quarry and had a richer variety of material. Coming back with shorter pieces of information which they themselves could manipulate, the groups could now fill in the third column.
"What I found most productive," says Abdul-Hayee, "was getting their ideas down first and using their own curiosity to drive their work. They do so much more like that. It is satisfying to do it on the computer: it helps to organise the work and they feel proud of the result."