Maureen McTaggart talks to UK innovation awards hopefuls before their trip to Cape Town
Jan Webb is looking forward to spending half term week in Capetown. Who wouldn’t? But there’ll be no basking in the sunshine or hanging out by the pool for the Weston Village Primary School teacher. Together with colleague Simon Horleston from Howe Dell School in Hatfield she is off to South Africa to take her place in the finals of Microsoft’s prestigious 6th Annual Worldwide Innovative Education Forum Awards.
Describing herself as “a sort of gannet when it comes to ideas”, she says, “One of the lovely things about your work being recognised by Microsoft’s Innovative Education Forum is getting the chance to meet with loads of other people and get even more ideas.“There is no point in re-inventing the wheel. Other people have ideas that you can take and twist and tweak them until they grow and expand,” explains Jan Webb who is currently in charge of Year 4 at the Cheshire school.
There is no doubting Jan when she claims to be excited by what innovative technology can do in education and that winning recognition in the European heat (held in Berlin) of the Forum with her 'A classroom without walls' project, was the icing on the cake.
Since her success she has been busy encouraging and supporting colleagues to develop their ICT skills – be it using wikis or online forums – through shared planning and teaching. They’d seen what Jan was doing – forging relationships and project collaborations between her students and their counterparts in schools in Singapore and Brunei – but initial thinking was “It’s not for me,” explains Jan.
“Through the shared teaching sessions we’ve got people using it and I am trying to show them there is relevance to where they are at. It has had a big impact. For example one of our key stage 1 teachers used a forum to help her class keep in touch with her daughter's trip to India; another used the digital voice recorders to re-enact historical interviews of characters that might have been involved in the Grace Darling story, Year 5 used wikis for a project on urban art and Year 6 used wikis for various projects including quest stories and my own class used wikis again for their rainforest topic.
“This month I'm off to an e-twinning workshop in Gdansk with the aim to build lasting links so that we are able to use these sort of projects in an effective way throughout the whole school and not just in my own classroom. Now colleagues have the experience of using the tools, we need more people to work with!“
Thankfully, Jan’s headteacher thinks along the same lines as she does about international collaboration. The whole school is working on developing sustainable links, and Web 2.0 tools, blogs and Skype are employed liberally to share work with established links, and to create opportunities for feedback, peer and self-assessment.
“We also used Twitter to gather data for our science experiment this year, kept in touch with a pupil visiting Hong Kong via her blog and used Skype to keep in touch with a pupil visiting Scotland during term time!” says Jan. “Twitter is going to keep featuring in our attempts to develop links beyond our classroom wall, and what I'm doing is being shared via TeachMeets etc. But what matters most is making the learning interesting, effective and fun for our students.”
Both Jan and Simon believe that digital technologies in the classroom have the ability to personalise lessons for students while meeting their needs and addressing what they have to do in the curriculum.
Following the success of his Climate Change Challenge project at Microsoft’s Berlin event Simon has been in demand to share good practice with his local schools. He is inclusion co-ordinator at Howe Dell, works with upper key stage 2 and is also an advocate for using ICT to shape curriculum aspirations.
And although his students have moved on to secondary school Simon plans to keep his them informed of his progress. Especially as they’ve left him PowerPoint presentations and sound files with the instructions that he uses them to show the Microsoft Award judges and international educators in Capetown what the project was all about.
“Although I enjoy utilising innovative technologies I do not see myself as an expert as you’re only as good as your last lesson,” says Simon “My experience with Microsoft has given me the time to reflect on my work at great length, which normally doesn’t take place in a profession that is fast paced and moves forward quickly. By being reflective it has challenged me to rethink my previously written medium term plans and has inspired me to think more creatively.”
For Jan innovative technologies have made her teaching more efficient. “It has taught me to teach in a different way and I have had to surrender some of my control freak nature. I’ve had to step back because it’s about empowering the kids to take control of their own learning. It’s learning to trust the students.
“They can go and do the research in a textbook or online but we learn from people. We develop our learning through relationships, and what we’ve done with the project is to build and develop it to make it a more efficient way for children to learn.”