Staying on the digital tablets

15th February 2013 at 00:00
An Edinburgh project is giving pupils all-round access to mobile devices. Jackie Cosh reports

A task has been given and the pupils are ready to start work. On one side are the novels they are working on, on the other side are their jotters, and in front of them are their Toshiba tablets.

This is the scene that Broomhouse Primary headteacher Yvonne Barrie describes as typical, now that all P6 and 7 children have their own tablets. There is no need to book a computer suite. Instead, it takes a mere 30 seconds to switch on the tablet and get going.

"The plan next is to extend this to P5 children, finances allowed," says Chris Kelly, acting depute. "Hopefully, we will keep going down the school. The vision is for every child in school to have one. We have still to investigate how it will work with P1 and 2, and this is a number of years down the line."

Broomhouse Primary is taking part in a digital learning pilot, one of four that Edinburgh City Council is running to examine the impact of children having direct access to a digital device. Part-funded by the local authority and part-funded by the school, all P6 and 7 pupils have had their own tablet since August. And they can take the devices home.

By using Learnpad (a management app which can sit on a variety of android tablets), Mr Kelly can manage each device and add apps remotely, saving time. Instead of programming 45 machines, he needs to program just one. QR codes allow him to differentiate between classes, and each device can be programmed according to that child's level of learning.

Some days the tablets are used for set lessons - for research topics, for some maths practice on Sum Swamp, or for an art lesson on PicSay; other days, they use them ad hoc.

"The pupils have been really motivated - enormously actually," says Mr Kelly. "They absolutely love them, without a shadow of a doubt, and we have never had to take one off a pupil. Once or twice a child has downloaded apps at home and just the threat of removal was enough.

"If, in a class, there is an issue with low-level behaviour, this removes it immediately. They are focused on the tablet rather than on annoying each other."

Children are allowed to take the tablets home, but before this was allowed to happen, parents were brought on board. A morning session and an evening session were arranged in order to explain to families what the tablets would be used for, how they would benefit the children's education, as well as explaining to them how the school was dealing with internet safety and how they could help at home. If anybody could not attend, Mr Kelly met them at another time.

Homework is set via the tablets' messenger storage system, enabling teachers to log on and comment. The impact on homework has been very positive.

"More children are bringing homework back and there is more engagement with parents. Broomhouse is a Positive Action school. One of our key priorities is to engage with parents. Getting them on board is what we are always striving to do," Mr Kelly says.

"When we were looking at World War Two and evacuees, the pupils took the tablets home and filmed discussions on the subject with their families. So more ideas were coming in and they were hearing others' thoughts."

As part of the long-term vision of all children having their own tablet, six tablets were bought for P5 children to use.

"This has been a great enhancement to their learning," Mr Kelly admits. "But it has been held back due to sharing. There are, however, still benefits to having clusters in the classroom."

Richard Burgess, from the digital learning team, has been helping to coordinate the pilots, visiting the school regularly to offer curricular support.

"One thing that has come out of the pilot is that there is not necessarily one device which works best. It is about planning and management. Trials have shown that having the device is the key benefit. It comes down to what the needs of the school are," he says.

"One side-effect is that schools have found there is a lot less need for photocopying in secondary schools. At Forrester, all maths resources are scanned in so that no paper is required for maths.

"The other thing we have looked at is pupils bringing in their own devices," he adds. "Everything we are doing is being piloted to see what the pros and cons are."

Miss Barrie feels the pupils benefit from having more control. "They allow for pupil-directed learning," she says. "If the pupils are motivated, they will learn. It also gives them aspirations for the future - to have a job, to be successful."

Mr Kelly agrees. "It is giving them the trick or skill which many others wouldn't have. So many times, the opposite has been the case," he says.

WHAT THE PUPILS SAID

"I use the tablet a lot at home. I never used to be good at maths, but I have practised a lot at home and it has really helped my fractions. I know a lot more now."

Scott Smith, 12

"I like using PicSay the best. We don't use the tablet every day. It depends on what we are doing. The teachers give us tasks to do at home and it makes homework more fun."

Katie Finlay, 12

1-2-1 PILOT SCHEMES

Edinburgh's digital learning team is running four 1-2-1 pilots.

Broomhouse Primary

All P6 and 7 pupils have their own android netbooks.

Sciennes Primary

All P5 and 6 pupils have their own iPads.

Gracemount High

All S3 pupils have been given netbooks.

Forrester High

All staff and every S1 pupil has an android tablet.

Researchers from the University of Hull are evaluating the four pilots and the impact of having one-to-one usage. A full report will be published in the summer.

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