Subject teaching

9th February 2001 at 00:00

Frongoch School, Denbigh, where David Baugh teaches, illustrates an important truth: successful ICT in education and learning involves the whole school. Frongoch was the only school in the award process to have two members of staff shortlisted - David and headteacher Jeremy Griffiths.

David entered teaching as a mature student. Before that he had worked as a school bursar and for nine years had been an officer in the Gurkha regiment.

Frongoch is not extravagantly resourced, rather the opposite, but ICT is used throughout by all the staff. David, like Jeremy Griffiths, is not a believer in computer suites - both feel that it is more important to have the computers in the classroom, so they can be embedded into the work. They feel that ICT enables children to work well in groups and to collaborate on projects. "If children see success while co-operating, they are more likely to work in harmony," says David. He believes ICT lends itself to the way many primary school classrooms work, with cross-curricular projects gathering, analysing and presenting information. "Teachers should be able to integrate ICT without changing the way they operate," he says.

David's classroom houses six computers and they are a mixture of platforms. A new iMac was bought because the school is convinced that the moviemaking capabilities are important. While I was there the pupils were editing a video sequence on the school environment that was to be sent to a school in Swansea that they are linked to.

There is nothing wildly innovative in what David does. He is extremely articulate and his main function is embedding ICT rather than driving it forward. He is involved with solving the day-to-day problems and also solving problems for staff as they arise. Staff are very complimentary about this approachability and his jargon-free explanations.

In an ICT environment David sees the teacher as someone who advises and assists rather than one who directs and teaches specific IT skills. David feels that the teacher should be concentrating on the child's learning rather than the technology. He compares the present approach to computers in the classroom with children using pens. Less confident children need guidance on how to hold the pen more effectively, but higher achievers need guidance with content and advice about source material or presentation.

The changes in Ysgol Frongoch, David believes, are the result of a sea change in the way the staff think. "Staff are enthused by the possibilities that ICT can bring to the teaching environment. They have seen, first hand, how a creative use of ICT brings out the best in children. They are motivated to improve the level of their personal skills to give their children the best ICT experience possible. Staff constantly surprise with new ideas, resources they have found and new uses for ICT."

Staff at Frongoch know that when children are actively engaged in the creation process, their ability to gather, process, distil, manipulate and present information becomes second nature across the curriculum, enhancing their learning all the time. When this is combined with focused group work, where children plan and co-operate effectively, their speaking and listening skills improve drastically.


* Activities that encourage information gathering and analysis are important

* Work on tasks that allow hypothesis and predictions

* Look for projects that allow children to be proud of their end product

* Allow learning by creation rather than passive reaction

* Try work that allows children to co-operate in groups


If the work in some primary schools makes the work in some secondary schools look pedestrian, it is sometimes the result of the Mark Robinson phenomenon. His website at Ambleside School is one of the most remarkable sites in ICT and learning anywhere. To call him a maverick is a compliment - that is where the energy comes from - but he does not fit well into the environments that most teachers have to work in. He does, however, show some paths out of the morass. Mark argues that there are many other teachers working on similar lines. True, and most acknowledge the inspiration they have taken from his work. No one received as many nominations from teachers across the country as Mark did.

Visiting Ambleside Primary School you can see the affection and respect that the girls and boys have for their remarkable teacher. The school has a computerpupil ratio that is about average. Mark manages to be at the centre of the learning area but not to dominate what is going on. You look at one screen as children cluster round and you assume that they are working with a professional package, then you realise that they have written it and are developing and extending it. You also realise the secret of Mark's work: he respects, trusts and challenges the children that he teaches. In his classroom we see the technology releasing aspects in the children that we have not seen before. Children who have been held in the straitjacket of teacher expectations are now breaking free and working with a dedication and insight that is astonishing.

Mark outlines how some of this is achieved: "By concentrating on creative use of ICT through our selection of software rather than the 'drill and test' regime offered by numerous alternatives, here is scope for 'invention' and 'serendipity' - the two most underrated ideas in modern education."

The Internet is at the heart of the work that Mark has done at Ambleside - not as reservoir of information, but as away of publishing, sharing work and good practice. He believes it is a natural environment for learning "This is the first generation of pupils that have lived entirely in an ICT-rich world. Don't try to shoehorn outdated models of learning into them without understanding how much ICT and digital media influences and directs their understanding of these subjects."

Jack Kenny

Ambleside school


* Keep up to date - technology changes daily

* Get connected to the web and make time to use it - it is the future

* Don't give children undemanding tasks and activities using ICT.

* Have other teachers specialise in specific software packages - there is too much for the average teacher

* Don't plan too tightly. Serendipity strikes when you begin to explore

* Keep it open ended - a test is a test however it is dressed up. Choose software that requires children to add the "content"

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