Sound pedagogy, thorough technical planning, and staff buy-in have been key factors in Opoutere School’s successful implementation of the Kopu Project.
The principal of the Coromandel primary school, Vaughan van Rensburg, says part of the success is due to the school’s five point plan with the development of a robust inquiry learning model as a priority.
Vaughan knew that a strong focus on the pedagogy was essential if there was to be a change in teachers’ thinking towards technology as a tool which can help teaching and learning in a range of different situations.
“I’ve never seen IT work well in previous schools I’ve been at because the ICT has been thrown at the teachers with no PD (professional development) and no pedagogy behind it. It’s just become another thing in the classroom where the computers have basically been used for word processing,” says Vaughan.
From the outset and prior to the project launch, professional development sessions were held for the staff, and to ensure continued buy-in, ongoing PD sessions are held at staff meetings. Time is set aside for discussion around the project and hands-on learning using the Promethean ACTIV Boards (IWB) and laptops.
With the pedagogy nutted out and an ongoing PD programme established, Vaughan started to look at the technical aspects of the project. A top down approach was applied, which looked at the overall technical needs of the school first, rather than individual classrooms.
The installation of a comprehensive cabling infrastructure was the first step, followed by an upgrade of all software to be run on the server. Broadband was then installed along with the wireless network.
Through fundraising and grants, each of the school’s four classrooms is kitted out with an IWB and has access to a total of six laptops.
Recently, two other Thames/Coromandel schools, Parawai School and Maramarua School, joined the project. The Kopu project’s director, Wayne Howes, says the schools’ priority right now is the development of a supportive pedagogy.
At this stage the project is being run on a smaller scale to Opoutere School, each only having one classroom equipped with an IWB and two laptops.
Over the coming months Wayne is running a series of workshops where Vaughan and the deputy principal Jan-Marie Kellow, will pass on the benefit of their knowledge of project establishment to the other schools.
“All the schools will come in and share their ideas on how to use the IWBs. I’ll also be providing a basis of professional development for the schools for when they come on board, and sorting out what the barriers are for the teachers,” says Wayne.
Seven months into the project, Vaughan, Wayne, and Jan-Marie believe the methodical and well planned approach has meant the project has encountered relatively few technical problems and is proving to be pedagogically robust.
Jan-Marie, a passionate advocate for ICT, says nearly all her classes are using either the IWB or laptops and she’s noted “a lot of learning going on,” with the children embracing the collaborative inquiry-based style of learning.
“It’s just blown me away, I’m amazed actually. Using the webquest inquiry-based learning approach has seen learning at a much higher level. They’re not learning knowledge for the sake of learning knowledge. They’re learning to solve a problem,” says Jan-Marie.
An example of this higher learning is Jan-Marie’s lesson on having a dinosaur as a pet. Taught traditionally, Jan-Marie says the children’s understanding of the ramifications of having a dinosaur as a pet was not well developed. However, with collaborative approaches and controlled access to the web through webquests, the children came to the conclusion that having a cat or a dog really was really the better option!
“They understood that you couldn’t cuddle up to a 12 metre dinosaur on the end of your bed. They got the information and put it in context.”
But how do schools measure ICTs influence on the children’s learning outcomes?
Vaughan says that’s the challenge his school is facing, and at the moment all the evidence he has to support ICT’s positive influence is anecdotal.
“There is nothing out there nationally to measure it and it’s hard to measure internally. We’ve been trying to benchmark it somewhere, and measuring against the benchmark, well it’s tricky,” says Vaughan.
Imparting good literacy and numeracy skills still underpins the curriculum at Opoutere School but with information age upon us, Vaughan says school’s have a new role of teaching children how to control, organise, utilise, interpret and weed out the good information from the bad.
“If kids can’t manipulate information when they leave school, they’re going to find it difficult and we’re giving them the skills to do that.”
With the project running smoothly, Vaughan and Jan-Marie will continue to introduce more ICT-based innovations into the classroom, and continue to provide PD and support to the other project schools. One of the project’s aims is to impart in children and the community a life-long love of learning, and it seems that at Opoutere School, they are well on the way!