A cartoon character is boosting confidence, says Dorothy Walker
When Year 7 students at Homewood School wanted to create a truly professional presentation that would earn top marks from a distinguished panel of judges, they turned to Jessie for help. Jessie is a cool cartoon character who can guide students through the tricks of the presentation trade. She features in a new e-tutoring system that is helping pupils at the school in Tenterden, Kent, to develop their ICT skills to great effect.
The system is ICT Matters e-tutor, part of a books and software learning package developed for key stage 3 ICT by publisher Heinemann and e-learning specialist Electric Paper. The ICT Matters books contain tasks for pupils, and e-tutor helps them work independently to learn the skills needed to complete the tasks. Jessie talks to the students, explaining each procedure with the help of simulations of software such as PowerPoint and Excel.
Homewood's Year 7 students have used the books in ICT lessons. But they are also learning ICT as part of an innovative new project, with the help of the whole package.
Chris Foreman, assistant vice principal learning systems, says: "The school is doing an accelerated KS3 - students complete the key stage in two years rather than three. And since the autumn we have been piloting an integrated task-based curriculum for KS3. We have pulled together five subjects - maths, English, ethical and religious studies, geography and history - and they are being taught together in themed projects. We bring 60 students into a room, and teachers of different subjects work collaboratively to teach the project. Every student has a tablet PC and they use digital learning resources."
One theme is conflict, and a project on 1066 and the Battle of Hastings was trialled with Year 7. Activities ranged from comparing the leadership qualities of King Harold with those of Jesus, to calculating how long it took Harold's troops to make their long march from Yorkshire to the battlefield at Battle.
The project ran for a term, and students worked intensively for 16 periods every week, dipping into ICT Matters when they needed it. Chris says: "If we asked students to produce a leaflet explaining how to convert miles to kilometres, we could direct them to ICT Matters to learn how to create a leaflet. ICT Matters is very powerful because you can get students into it at the point where they can find out how to do what they need to do, at the very time they need to do it. Rather than working through the modules in linear fashion, we are using all the material as a project resource."
He says that pupils enjoyed working at their own pace, building on their strengths and working on areas of weakness. And they found it helpful to be talked through tasks by Jessie, as well as being able to refer to the book.
"Seeing things in print complements what is happening on screen - it is all about ensuring we cater for different learning styles. Jessie uses very cool language, which will probably date, but at the moment the children love her."
In their analysis of the march into battle, the students used Publisher, Microsoft's publishing software, to measure a route they had drawn on a digital map, and created an Excel spreadsheet to calculate how many days it would have taken to cover the distance. Their spreadsheet skills were also used to plan the finances and logistics of their own trip to Battle, which was made by coach.
Most use of e-tutor was made in the final week of the project, when groups of students had to prepare a PowerPoint presentation to be delivered to a panel of scrutineers. Chris says: "We invite people from organisations such as English Heritage and our local teacher-training college, as well as our chair of governors and senior management. Students are marked on their knowledge of each subject, and our advanced skills teacher in ICT marks them on how well they have put together their presentation. The scrutiny is rigorous, and each group is debriefed afterwards."
Chris says that ICT Matters brought about a marked improvement in the quality of the students' presentations.
He says they enjoy feeling more in control of their learning. "They love finding things out for themselves, and they like demonstrating their new-found skills to their classmates and teachers. ICT Matters has really moved us forward with our training - for us it is the perfect solution."
* ICT Matters e-tutor software is available for Years 7 and 8. Prices from pound;125-pound;5,499 for the networked version. Books from pound;10.25 each.