I would like to start by stating that everything we do with technology begins with the learning we want to happen. We then look for ways that technology can support, enhance and transform this learning. We certainly don’t hold up our way of doing things as being the best or only way to approach technology for learning and every school will have different needs. Hopefully those reading this can gain ideas from what we do though.
We began our journey over a decade ago when we asked all staff across the school to begin planning their schemes of work, lessons and resources online. We changed the school timetable to provide 2 hours per week on a Wednesday afternoon for departments to work collaboratively on their schemes of work and to place them online. All lessons follow the Cramlington Learning Cycle which is based on the original Accelerated Learning Cycle created by Alistair Smith. This had an immediate impact on the quality of lessons across the school.
As we began to understand the power of this approach we employed three web designers over the following two years to support staff with this online unitisation and the creation of resources. Resources became more and more engaging for students taking advantage of the expertise of our web designers and making the ideas of our staff a reality.
Gradually our online systems became more and more sophisticated and our web design team’s role began to include building bespoke systems for use in school. The introduction of a heavily customised Frog VLE and Google Apps for Education allowed us to take these systems even further. We are now at the point where our online systems are so well integrated that we simply couldn’t function without them. They add tremendous value to what we do.
We are lucky enough now to be one of 6 eLearning champion schools in the UK, the lead school for the UK in an EUN Creative classrooms project spanning 9 countries and one of 7 Google Lighthouse schools in the UK.
So why go mobile anyway?
There are a number of very clear reasons we decided to go 1:1 with mobile devices. The most important of these is it aligns with our schools core purpose and our vision (more on that soon). In addition to that we believe that we need to use this type of technology in order to help prepare our students for the future. Tablets, Chromebooks and the Cloud are the tools of today and if we are stuck in the past using yesterday’s tools student will not be engaged in their learning. We are also facing tighter budgets as all schools are. Our current ratio of PCs to students is no longer sustainable on our current budgets. We needed to change in order to continue to provide technology for our students. We also want to break down the barriers of the school building. Mobile technology paves the way for strategies like flipped learning, independent learning and informal learning at home.
In terms of our school’s vision and core purpose: Our school’s core purpose is “developing successful independent learners and thinkers”. We have build our physical environment to match this vision. We have large open and flexible learning spaces, break out areas for students, presentation areas and boardrooms adjoining classrooms. As most schools do we provide spaces for students to work at break and lunch times if they wish to do so and we encourage students to learn at home.
Mobile technology is a perfect fit for this type of environment. It’s… well… “mobile” meaning it can be used at point of need in any of these areas. As technology is so fast now we can begin to make fantastic use of learning tools at point of need. Our students have access to a blog for each lesson, they have access to digital toolkits to support them with literacy, numeracy, thinking skills and working in groups. They have online planners and homework systems. All of these tools help to develop independence in our students.
Practicalities – our mobile device scheme:
We run our scheme in the following way:
- Parents opt into the scheme when students are in year 7.
- We ask for a contribution of £10 per month towards the scheme from each parent over 2 years.
- In return for this we provide the device (in this case Chromebook) complete with protective case, necessary license and software, insurance, warranty and technical support.
- Money is built in to the contributions to allow us to transfer ownership of the device to the parent at the end of the 2 year scheme. Students then keep the device for use in school.
- We collect contributions using the elearning foundation. The elearning foundation collect contributions using monthly direct debits and then make quarterly payments to the school. This includes gift aid from many parents which helps to fund the scheme and keep it affordable.
- If a student is on free school meals we use pupil premium money and parents do not make a contribution.
- If parents wish to opt in but are prevented for financial reasons the school will support and negotiate slightly lower contributions as appropriate.
- It is important to note that the contributions are both optional and are towards the scheme. They are not a payment for the device.
Is the scheme working?
The scheme is having an extremely positive impact on learning at our school. Students use their devices every day an in almost all lessons. The device is not a replacement for exercise books which we feel are important too. However, the device offers so many opportunities which wouldn’t exist otherwise.
The collaborative aspect of our Chromebooks has had a massive impact on the way students work together, the way staff and students communicate and on the marking and feedback process. Productivity has risen and we are seeing more and more students using technology outside of school.
As a tool for learning it is clear that students are becoming much more independent at using things like their online planner, the learning toolkits we provide and in using the Internet ‘effectively’ to find new things out.
Informally students are reporting using websites and YouTube at home to learn new things and students enjoy the flipped classroom model where they can learn about topics before they come to the lesson.
Written by Phil Spoors, Assistant Head Teacher at Cramlington Learning Village