Linking up with another school used to involve travel, risk assessments, moving furniture, eating into precious learning time – and so on and so on. But now, owing to technological advances, this can be done from the comfort of your very own classroom or, in my school’s case, the library.
We use something called TePL (technology-enhanced professional learning, bit.ly/AberdeenTePL). It lets pupils teach each other about their learning. Everyone plans and shares what they are doing, and you can record and watch it back. It’s innovative because this is more than video-conferencing – it’s communication, cooperation and collaboration.
It opens up the possibility of working with a school in the Highlands, or maybe learning a foreign language with children from another country. So far, my class has used TePL with schools more locally: Danestone Primary, for example, is only a couple of miles away. Young pupils have used it, too – our P1s were learning Mandarin with University of Aberdeen students.
There’s a strong sense of responsibility that comes from knowing that children in other schools are relying on your efforts. The sharing of opinions and the learning experience is really powerful.
My P5 class was spurred on by this feeling of joint endeavour and, with help from school staff and Aberdeen City Council’s numeracy support officer, planned their own Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) activities on a space theme.
Henry, a friendly alien, blasts off to his home planet with artefacts that pupils feel will sum up Scotland and their local area – anything from a CD of Scottish music to an Aberdeen Football Club scarf – but something goes wrong and the items fall to the ground.
Our pupils created clues to help retrieve the items; Danestone pupils had to find them using maps, grid references, compass points and local knowledge. This demanded higher-order skills in listening, thinking, reading, creativity and writing. The live link enabled pupils to see what children in the other school were doing, and share ideas as they tried to save the day.
TePL is not just for pupils but also for professional learning. I used the technology during my University of Aberdeen postgraduate diploma while on placement in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire – my teaching was observed by my tutor back at the university.
She could watch from afar without becoming a focus in the classroom, and engage with the learners in a different way. Meanwhile, I could review my teaching, which was incredibly useful if slightly unnerving at first – I hadn’t realised how often I said “OK” when speaking.
Embracing this technology has shown me how resourceful that learners can be when faced with challenges – and how cross-curricular work can take children’s learning to the next level.
Rachel Chalmers is a probationer teacher at Middleton Park Primary School in Aberdeen. The resource pack for the pupil-designed space project is at bit.ly/HenryInSpace