By Bob Harrison and Andy Black
Leeds Evolve 1Celebrating creativity with ´Comic Life´Leeds learners, teachers and education services supplier RM showcased some of the solid school achievements of the Building Schools for the Future programme at a special celebratory event focused on learning with ICT.

At a desperate time for ICT in schools, which has seen £200 million Harnessing Technology funding halved, and BSF, which had a 10 per cent ring-fenced budget for ICT (almost £5 billion over the full BSF term) scrapped, it was a welcome opportunity to peer behind the widescale disappointment and the intense party politics that have eclipsed successful transformation of learning.

The teachers and pupils of Leeds joined with RM, the ICT strategic partner to Education Leeds, gathered to celebrate in an “Imaginarium” learning space crawling with dozens of enthusiastic "evolve imagineers” which was a hot bed of ideas and the creative use of technology.

Chloe and Dominic, from Castleton Primary School showed how they were using Comic Life software to tell their own stories (pictured), comic style, with speech bubbles and their own images.

Leeds Evolve 2Using handhelds and augmented realityBrooklyn and Connor couldn’t wait to show the value of augmented reality (also pictured). And while Ryan and James eventually found the video file of their activity week at Herd Farm, and showed the video teachers had shot, they were far more enthusiastic sharing what they were using at home on their extensive personal collection of laptops, net books, iPhones and the latest Xbox live games they were playing with other children from around the globe.

The children’s enthusiasm, and raised expectations, for the use of these technologies were among the reasons why Jen Darnell, head of ICT at Castleton Primary School, is so concerned about the cuts to the ICT budget.“We must have the financial support to provide these children with inspiring and challenging learning opportunities with technology,” said Jen.

“They are so used to being immersed in digital technologies in the rest of their lives we need to keep the learning environment the same.”

This is a critical point which was recently reinforced by Open University vice'chancellor Martin Bean when he suggested that this is a growing problem and is leading to a “crisis of relevance” for our schools and colleges.

´Learning in the 21st century without technology would be a tragedy´

This “celebration of success” day was the idea of Cathy Morgan from Leeds RM. Cathy has long been a missionary for the use of digital technologies to improve learning. After several years working in schools and colleges, a spell at Ofsted and the DfES Standards Unit, she eventually took over from Ken Dyson as the HMI responsible for ICT before joining RM three years ago. "I could not resist the opportunity to work with the teachers and pupils of Leeds schools and help them develop their vision of learning with digital technologies," she said "Today is a culmination of a lot of effort by a lot of people and shows what can be achieved with some vision from school leaders, a strong commercial partner and the imagination of the pupils and teachers."

However, Cathy added a note of caution: "Learning in the 21st century without technology would be a tragedy, especially as  we are seeing some real benefits and outcomes from the BSF programme and particularly  the investment in ICT."

This was a point reinforced by Leeds teacher Gemma Elliot. “I am really frustrated. "Just when we have something in the palm of our hands which offers so much to improve children’s learning it feels like it is being snatched away. My children will be leaving school in a few years time and digital technology will be an essential element of all their jobs. We need the tools to prepare them for life in the 3rd millennium.”

Evolve Leeds 3Rewarding Leeds learners´achievements with Stephen HeppellThe day got off to a flying start with Professor Stephen Heppell suggesting that  “a turned'off device is a turned'off child”. And a programme of fascinationg workshops included feedback on how Moortown Primary had used technology to engage with the community using their website and Twitter and how Temple Moor High School had been using the iPod Touch for work in politics and geography.

Holly, a pupil said. “The iPod Touch is the best tool you can have for learning and I can learn when I am travelling to school on the bus.”

Andrew, a politics student, added. “The iPod Touch is great because I can get it out any time and don’t waste time trying to find a PC to use. I am not the most organised student and I use it to organise myself.”

James used it with Google Maps to prepare for his geography field trip to the Isle of Arran, and added. “It gave me a chance to get a feel for the landscape and geography of the place before going.“

More information

Swallow Hill School won the e-safety competition and their winning entry can be viewed here.

Full details of all the workshops and all the Evolve activities can be viewed here
The Twitter word cloud for the day is here

Bob Harrison and Andy Black were guests of RM at the Evolve “celebrating success” day

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