Subject teaching

9th February 2001 at 00:00

Richard Heppell would be a great teacher with or without ICT. It just adds to his impact. Like most of the teachers seen for the awards, he keeps ICT under control, not dominating his life or his classroom. There are no revolutionary changes here. "The ICT resources that interest me are those that will be seen by my colleagues as just another useful tool of the classroom. In many instances, the ICT resources I have developed take the traditional work that all science teachers deliver and add an ICT component. Staff do not regard the ICT dimension as a gimmick - it is real ICT in action, just adding a new feature to the lesson."

Richard's classroom, at Beauchamp College in Leicester, is not richly resourced. The computers are all kept on trolleys so that they can be moved around the department. It would be unusual to have more than three or four computers in any one lesson. A conventional screen and a projector are at the front and there is a small Web camera for showing close-up experiments.

So how is the ICT used? He instances his work with spreadsheets. In every conventional science classroom students gather data and traditionally write up their method and results tables, perhaps collating results on the board. At Beauchamp, for a large number of the experiments there is a spreadsheet template. Data is collated on one computer, it is analysed and graphed, and the templates have the method already incorporated. The print-out is a high quality worksheet with the students' own results. They are designed so that students and staff with very little ICT competency can make use of them.

Data-logging, Richard argues, has opened the opportunity to monitor factors over time scales that were not previously possible to capture before. Digital capture of all sorts of information - from pH to pressure and colour change to conductivity - has opened new activities for students to study.

"We can operate like true scientists in the field or lab," he says. "Spreadsheets enable students and teachers to collate data, analyse and graph data. Students that may have been barred from certain experiments because of limited mathematical skills, can take part and concentrate on the science in the investigation. In modelling, investigations can be fully examined in short periods of time and a host of factors controlled and manipulated."

The InternetIntranet at Beauchamp has given access to current, first-hand information and gives the opportunity to create a virtual department - all resources held digitally - classified and categorised to promote greater ease of access for students. The ability to organise and present information has been made a lot easier for students with DTP, word-processing and presentation software. "Creativity has been unleashed in students that before were frustrated by their writing skills and the appearance of their work," Richard says.

My abiding memory of Richard's teaching will be the end of one of his lessons, where he was working with some sophisticated 17-year-olds who all gathered round the screen to play Richard's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? for chocolates. Revision and summary have never been so motivating.


* rovide laptops for all teachers

* Design all teaching spaces with ICT in mind (not just the computer rooms)

* Use ICT to support the lesson, not to become the lesson

* Provide ICT resources and materials that all staff are enthusiastic about and are confident enough to use with all students

* View ICT as just another tool of the classroom and recognise when it is the right tool to enhance the learning experience


Deirdre McCann is a fairly recent convert to using ICT in her subject and she has all the zeal of the newly converted. Like a great many secondary teachers, she sees the world through her subject. She already believes that ICT has raised a positive attitude towards academic work among the less able and those with learning difficulties.

She sees the Internet as an ideal resource for bringing the subject to life and enhancing student motivation. The history department has pioneered many of the ICT developments in the school, and the ICT has grown organically and is embedded into the school, St Louisa's - the largest girls' school on Europe - on the Falls Road in Belfast. Home and school access is well developed.

Deirdre defines ICT's contribution to history teaching as the encouragement of independent learning. Revision is made more effective by PowerPoint packages on the intranet, describing themes that have been researched through the Internet. The presentation of coursework and correction and redrafting improves quality. The intranet is particularly good for discovering and cross-referencing sources. Pupils also are encouraged to learn editing, converting data from one form to another. Above all Deirdre wants to be teaching how to think, not what to think.

The practicalities are there in Deirdre's thinking. Success, she feels, depends "to a large extent on a school or institution achieving what is deemed in the literature as a "state of readiness" in order to embrace the new technology. The individual school curriculumpolicy must be developed alongside its ICT policy, so a common vision is achieved. Otherwise you will have isolated patches of individual enthusiasts providing little "ICT islands of experience" to pupils that are particular to that subject, but fit into no overall vision or scheme."

Deirdre has realised that ICT has changed her role. She now sees herself with these roles running consecutively or even simultaneously:

"Facilitator, mentor, instructor, developerauthor, provider of resources, technician (especially when things go wrong), coach and the pupils' biggest fan, urging them on and encouraging progress while celebrating a job well done."


* Enthusiastic teaching staff and pupilsmanagement system willing to support innovation and develop a whole-school policy

* An open mindsense of humour

* Approachableknowledgeable back-up staff, eg ICT technicianshardware specialists and IT department

* Time to practise, explore possibilities, create presentationsresources and a willingness to share good practice with colleagues and pupils

* Access to resources - eg hardware, software, computer suites, laptops - and colleagues to share experiences and techniques

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