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Student feedback and whole school change using techology is far more than mouse mischief and games.

Varpelis translates as “bell” and here was the first school visit in Kaunas Varpelis Primary School, Lithuania.   It is the shape of a capital H with two floors, but the...

Small Schools can do IT with Open Learning and Personalisation

VS Gutenberg an der Raabklamm has just 66 students, but with two floors and a bright and spacious building, it doesn’t feel small. With just 14-18 students per class, and only 5 teachers...

Active Learning in Ieper Across the Curriculum is Building Opportunities for Whole School Innovation and Change.

MS Ieper school is ten minutes walk from the main town square of Ieper where the Menin Gate is situated. This is a middle school with approximately 189 students aged 12-14...

Mathematical Movies, Stop-motion and a Countdown to the Finale in Space.

My journey begins with a train from Brussels Central Station to Leuven.  De Klare Bron and De Grasmus is a federation of two schools led by one headteacher, Begga Willems. I begin the...

Libraries, learning spaces and a mobile curriculum.

Istituto Comprensivo di Cadeo is a federation of two schools that are within two towns near Piacenza with a 10-15 minute drive between. In each of the two towns of Pontenure and ...

Collaborating through E-Twinning; Animated Fairy-Tales and the Lego Challenge.

My second visit in Norway is to Skjelnan School , a primary school for approximately 250 students aged 6-13 years. The school day is 8.30am – 12:30pm for the students in lower...

Innovation - Where will you invest next?

Puropelto School has undergone significant transformation over the last five years to improve the learning environment for staff and students. The change in the environment is not visible from...

Take One Finland - Lights, Camera, Action

My first visit in Finland was to Wäinö Aaltonen School on the island of Hirvensalo, near Turku. This is a primary school and provides education for approximately 450 students from 7-13...

Getting Mobile and Making Cartoons for Language Learning.

As we walk up the stairs to the classroom, the first observation is Petra climbing the stairs to her lesson carrying what looks like a large blue reusable supermarket shopping bag. (And it probably...

"Buchty" or Learning Snacks?

  Dr E Beneṧe School is my first visit in the Czech Republic. Set in the suburbs of Prague in an area called Zscakovice, the school has 751 pupils from 6-15 years and is classified as a...

Inspiring design ideas in different learning spaces

  At Broadclyst Academy , one of the other dominant features was the different types of classroom space available and it soon became apparent that over the years, the head teacher and the team...

Observation visits Observation visits

Link observation visits schedule 2013

  • UK: 12 June and 27 June
  • Czech Republic: 16 September
  • Finland: 23 September
  • France: 30 September
  • Norway: 14 October
  • Italy: 21 October
  • Cyprus: 11 November
  • Belgium: 18 November
  • Portugal: 13 January 2014
  • Ireland: 20 January 2014
  • Austria: 27 January 2014
  • Lithuania: 10 February 2014
Journal: Observation visits Journal: Observation visits
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Small Schools can do IT with Open Learning and Personalisation

VS Gutenberg an der Raabklamm has just 66 students, but with two floors and a bright and spacious building, it doesn’t feel small. With just 14-18 students per class, and only 5 teachers (including the headteacher), this school has had a specific focus developing the use of interactive technologies and on personalising the learning content for the individual students.

A tour of the school with Manfred Fleck, the headteacher and LSL lead, shows a large library that opens to the students from 7am in the morning so that parents can drop their children off early before going to work before the official school day starts at 7.45am. It is also open on Sundays for a couple of hours so that students can visit with their parents. There is a kindergarten downstairs in the school, this is also used as an after school area for the older students when the school day finishes at 12.40pm. Attached to the school is a community room that can be booked for adult learning and social occasions too.
There is no computer lab at this school and this is because the headteacher has equipped each classroom with 6-8 PCs instead.
  • Could you move technologies in your school to ensure that everyone has “distributed access” on a regular basis rather than access through a restricted timetable?
Across the school, there has been a move to introduce “open learning” days twice a week. This means that on Monday morning the student is given a plan for the week ahead. Whilst the week will begin with more traditional and instructional learning, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays the student has a number of tasks that he/she must complete within the time given, but each student can work at their own pace. The students are encouraged to complete a task before moving on to the next task.
Today’s first lesson is with the six and seven year old first graders. The students are learning the letter b. The teacher shows the students lots of images on the IWB that might begin with b. The teacher selects different students and invites them to the IWB to find the right word based on her clues. In the main part of the lesson, the students have to work through four main activities:
1) plasticine making the letter b
2) using a peg board to make a capital b and a lower case b
3) individual activities about the letter b at the PC e.g. word games
4) words beginning with b on the interactive whiteboard.
Sometimes there are parts on the plan that everyone has to do the same, whilst other activities are more individualised to each student. 
In 2nd grade the 7 and 8 year olds have a sheet of A4 with 22 activities to complete over the next two days. At first glance, I am amazed that any teacher has time to plan 22 activities for two days, but closer analysis shows that the teacher plans larger tasks that will take longer, and a series of smaller tasks. (It still seems a lot!) The teacher explains that at the beginning of the year, some of the younger students are keen to choose more computer based activities, but they soon realise that they still have to do the written work.   
During the lesson, the teacher is able to move around and give individual support. If students finish a task they must show the teacher their completed work before moving on to the next task. The students then have to colour in square on the planning sheet. (The aim is to have a completed chart by the end of the two days of open learning.) 
  • How do you keep a record of what the students have completed?
  • Do your students keep their own record of their learning activities?
  • How often do you inform the parents about how the students are completing their work?
After they have completed each one, the student must colour in the square on the plan. It certainly feels like this is something that would benefit from being digital, and it would be relatively easy to do this. Of course, there are layers of complexity that could be added, but the notion of even very young children being able to build a “portfolio” that is connected to teacher assessment data is possible.
I am keen to question the teacher about how long it takes to prepare for the activities over the course of the two days. 
  •  How long does it take you to plan for the whole week?
  •  Do you prepare individual lessons or a number of activities with learning outcomes?
  • How often do you plan to use the technology?
The advantage is that the teacher has a smaller class and so she can spend more time getting to know what the individual can do. The planning sheet also includes the weekly homework tasks, and each student has a USB stick with the content on their stick.
  • Do your students have an e-portfolio?
  •  How is the e-portfolio connected to the student’s assessment data?
At a very basic level, how do you record what the students have been doing on the computer or using technology? This is particularly important when there may be no evidence of outputs within the lesson. 
This classroom is laid out in a horseshoe shape with each student having their own seat. However, at the back of the room are 6-8 PCs for individual students to access. There is also a sofa area and the classroom portrays a homely atmosphere. It is snowing outside, and whilst a few students wear indoor slip on shoes, the majority are just in socks. It really feels like the students can decide on their own learning pathway, choosing what to learn, how to do it, and to move between the different zones of the classroom like rooms in the home.
I also get the opportunity to spend some time with the 4th Grade students who have 6 activities to complete within the next two hours. Sachunterricht is a combination of several subjects together, including Science, Geography, History and Social Sciences.  Today’s topic is the human body. Some of the students are working at the SMARTboard doing a closed procedure drag and drop exercise on how blood travels around the body. Some students are working on www.kidsnet.at  where there are web based activities for many Sachunterricht themes. Others are doing a piece of writing about the skeleton. There are also four iPads available for students to move the different parts of the skeleton into the correct position.
It would seem the older the students get, the choice of activities becomes less but perhaps with the expectation that the students will spend longer on each task. There is still a clear blend of paper based and technology related activities. In each classroom the students seem to organise themselves easily and are content to participate in different tasks.
This school has been implementing the use of the technology steadily over the past ten years. However, there has been a deliberate decision to integrate the use of different technologies but this has happened alongside a changed approach to the curriculum. The whole staff have been involved in the decisions about open learning, and whilst this may seem easier because there is a small team, it also means that each teacher has had to upskill in the use of technologies to ensure continuity and progression across the school. However, the resources are organised on the intranet and staff can access shared materials.
So, this school has showed the art of the possible for small schools and leaves me thinking about what learning could be like here if all the students had access to their own device all day. I’m sure it won’t be long until the open learning plan is digital for every student.
P.S. My journey from Bad Hofgastein to Graz was 3 ½ hours by train with just one quick change. The funny thing was, from the beginning I felt like I was interrupting  a “Where’s Wally?” scene. Today is the slalom race at Schladming and whilst most of the passengers are in striped woolly hats with pom-poms, I am definitely the odd one out working on my laptop wearing a suit!
Next Stop: Lithuania – the final leg of the journey!