Teachers and ICT support staff in north Wales work together to produce their own literacy materials. Hugh John sees them go down a treat in the class
Carole Richardson's combined Years 1 and 2 pupils are sitting cross-legged on the floor in rapt enthralment. In the light of the Smart Board's projector beam, Carole is leading her pupils through a series of literacy exercises. The lesson is conducted predominantly in Welsh but children and teacher slip comfortably into English for the benefit of their visitors.
Noson Oer ("cold night") describes, in pictures and rhyme, a group of farm animals and their dwellings. The program is in Flash format - heads swivel, horns move and tongues flick in and out - and the animations are clearly a source of enjoyment for these young children.
The game Carole has devised to accompany the program is a variation of Through the Keyhole. "Who could possibly live in a stable like this?" she asks before pupils drag pictures of the animals across the whiteboard and match them with their appropriate living quarters. Horse goes to stable, pig to sty, cow to field, and so on. There's laughter as one of the pupils moves the cat dangerously close to an open fire. Carole gently leads pupil and class to the realisation that this cat is not for burning and needs to be moved away from the heat.
Ysgol Niwbwrch (Newborough School), a small primary on the island of Anglesey, is, like all schools in Wales, equipped with whiteboard technology. In 2002, the Welsh Assembly set aside pound;9.9 million for interactive whiteboards with a further pound;4 million to be spent on training over the next three years. All teachers in Anglesey and neighbouring LEA Gwynedd have received at least one day's whiteboard training. The company responsible for providing and maintaining ICT and curricular materials is Cynnal (it means "support"), a private company working under the auspices of the two authorities. Winner of the 2002 BETT Award for Support for ICT, Cynnal supplies Welsh online content in different formats including Flash and PowerPoint. It's stimulating software and Welsh Assembly politicians would do well to support its spread through Welsh schools.
One of Cynnal's guiding principles has been, wherever possible, to provide schools with Welsh software. This is partly because Anglesey and Gwynedd have high percentages of Welsh speaking children and partly, says Cynnal ICT advisor Haf Wyn Jones, "because otherwise they'd think, 'Oh computers, it's all English'." 2Simple and Granada have been particularly helpful in producing Welsh versions of their software and Microsoft has released Welsh language versions of Windows and Office. When this happens, schools across the two LEAs will have bilingual versions of all the software used in the classroom. Additionally, Cynnal's training for teachers has encouraged them to adapt digital materials to enhance subjects across the curriculum.
Interactivity is at the heart of Carole's lesson. The whiteboard looks enormously stimulating and - judging by the way pupils raise their hands when asked who wants to go to the front - it's fun. The children are improving their oral skills by describing their favourite lines in the poem and their reading by studying rhyming words or those beginning with the same letter. They also have the opportunity to read aloud, either individually or collaboratively. Notebook, Smart's whiteboard software, is very popular with the class. Users can scan photos into the "gallery" and manipulate them on the screen. "Children love to write on the screen with their pens and also move pictures and text wherever they want," says Carole.
For example, Carole and her class had previously used a digital camera to photograph pupils' homes in Newborough. The village was represented by a basic grid showing the school (ysgol), village shop (siop) and church (eglwys) and the children then positioned the images of their homes in the appropriate empty squares.
2Simple's Infant Video Toolkit 2 is another big favourite, especially the 2Paint and 2Publish sections which, says Carole, "have lots of different simple but effective layouts such as repetitive borders, envelopes and speech captions that give children variety in the literacy and ICT work".
There's something else rather special going on this class. Noson Oer is a Welsh poem for children that has been illustrated by Carole. Her original watercolour paintings were scanned into a PowerPoint presentation and then animated by the Cynnal web design team which includes five full-time Flash experts.
Carole explains: "Cynnal announced that they were looking for teachers to produce a unit of work for the online curriculum site. I jumped at the chance because I love anything relating to ICT. I knew that I wanted to produce some kind of unit for literacy but it took me a while to choose the perfect poems. Once I found two poems I really liked and felt inspired by I set to work. The first poem was about the days of the week and what the character saw on each day. The second poem was about the farmyard and the animals.
"As I was producing the work I would take it in to school to try my work out on my children - my little guinea pigs. Their faces when they saw the characters on screen were a picture; it made me feel very proud. I let them try some of the activities that went with each unit which allowed me to see if there were any aspects that needed adjusting."
If this is ICT evangelism it's not the Damascus variety. The room may be kitted out with PCs, printer, scanner, copier, digital camera and microscope, but the artwork and paintings which cover the classroom walls suggest a happy conflation of old and new technologies.
Carole ensures that her pupils have an opportunity to use some aspect of ICT every day. "Whether it be writing their news on the PC, taking photographs of themselves or taping their voices with a microphone, I believe it is an important subject in the curriculum and an invaluable aspect of learning for the big wide world." She says. And her little guinea pigs? They've got the best of both worlds: quality teaching and the time of their young lives.
Cynnal online curriculum
www.cynnal.co.uk Macromedia Flash
www.macromedia.comukresourceseducation Microsoft PowerPoint
www.microsoft.comukeducation Smart Boards and Notebook software
www.smartboard.co.uk 2Simple Infant Video Toolkit 2
Animated antics: Carole Richardson uses a program featuring her own illustrations during a literacy lesson at Newborough Primary School in Anglesey