By Daniel McKeown
Classrooms of the future are being piloted in two Welsh primary schools with pupils getting laptops to use in a 1:1 pilot. Students at Raglan and Durand primary schools in Caldicot, Monmouthshire, will use Classmate PCs (Fizzbooks) to access e-learning resources, securely surf the internet and blog their thoughts and experiences.
It is hoped the pilot, which is initially scheduled to run until July 2010 will then be extended across the county.
The Intel-designed laptops, under the Fizzbook brand, are produced locally by CMS. They feature rotating screens, enabling them to be used as tablet-style touch-screens as well as traditional laptops. In tablet mode, students can write and draw on their screens using a stylus. The sturdy machines also have waterproof keyboards, carry handles and built-in cameras.
Monmouthshire County Council's schools ICT development manager Mark Davies predicts the laptops will enable pupils to develop skills and independence using ICT and extend links between home and school. “We are extremely excited that every child in the project has been given a brand-new 'Fizzbook' laptop for the duration of the pilot, for use both in school and at home,” he said.
The machines come preloaded with educational programs, including an office suite, graphical applications, media players and web creation and blogging software. Pupils get in-school training and instruction, including health and safety, before they are allowed to take them home.
In school, teachers can use SMART Sync classroom management software to supervise and manage pupils' computers.
“The greatest security concerns for pupil computers are protecting against theft, preventing infiltration by viruses, deterring information theft and preventing pupil access to inappropriate web content,” says Mark Davies. The laptops will have etched security marks visible on the outside to deter theft.
Each machine has a partitioned hard drive separating user data from the operating system, enabling troubleshooting without loss of data. The operating system is protected by Steady State software which restores the computer's original state every time it is turned on, replacing accidentally-deleted files and preventing viruses. Anti-virus software is provided by Sophos.
In school pupils use the school's filtered internet connection. At home, they can only access a "white list" of approved websites. Support will be available from A2Z Computing and Mark Davies.
The pilot covers Raglan's Year 5 (9-10) age group and Durand's Year 4 (8-9). After the pilot, the students will continue to use of Fizzbooks until they leave primary school at Year 6. If the scheme is fully adopted, pupils will be able to keep their Fizzbooks after they leave primary school. Funding could come from parental contributions or advertising on the machines.
Tim Hatch, Intel's education and public sector business development manager, says technology is helping to improve the evolving learning environment. “At Intel, we believe that students at all levels everywhere deserve to have the skills they need to become the next generation of innovators," he said. "This initiative in Wales is a step towards that and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.”
More on Fizzbooks at TAG Learning