Virtual Round Tablers

17th November 2006 at 00:00
It's not your average job application. For the role Knight of King Arthur, Grade 1, one applicant asserts his suitability thus: "I have fought in many gruesome wars." Then, rather resourcefully, he adds: "I lost my sword but killed the enemy king by stabbing him in the back with his own crown."

These are not modern-day psychopaths, but children from two Roman Catholic schools: Steelstown primary in Derry, and Birchley St Mary's in St Helens.

They are involved in a virtual learning project that brings together schools from different faiths and countries, both online and physically.

Each school researched a legend of their culture before presenting it to the other via weekly video-conferencing and more frequent Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) sessions. The Northern Irish school chose Cuchulainn, an ancient Gaelic hero, while the English pupils took King Arthur and the knights of the round table and created, in groups of six, an Arthurian knight complete with motto, shield and personal history. Steelstown's response was to hold online job interviews for a place on the round table.

The link was forged after the schools were joint runners-up in the ICT in Practice category at the 2004 British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) awards. Teachers from the two schools decided after the ceremony to collaborate on a writing and communication project.

"The idea is to get pupils thinking about how text represents their thoughts so others can pick them up," says Peter Heaney, head of maths at Steelstown and initiator of the project.

The VLE sessions use Think.com, a free online platform for schools, and have technical support from Steelstown's local authority, the Western Education and Library Board. "The good thing about Think.com is that it is content-free," says Mr Heaney. "The main ingredient is the teacher's imagination. The important time is away from the computers."

Two more schools joined the project last year - Plockton primary, a small rural Church of Scotland school on the Isle of Skye, and a Polish school, John Paul II, near Wroclaw in south-west Poland. Pupils from these schools and Birchley St Mary's visited Steelstown this summer.

Though three of the schools are Catholic, funding from the local authority requires cross-community participation. However, according to Mr Heaney, "Religion isn't an issue. Birchley St Mary's didn't even know we were a Catholic school until they visited. Our school does a lot of work reaching out to any school of any denomination.

"Our ethos is children are children"n www.think.com is free to UK schools

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