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Using Technology to help learning? Mission Possible

21 Apr 2020

The year is 2020 and for sure it will find a special place in the History books. Even though it is only the beginning of the calendar year, we have already faced an unprecedented situation - working and learning from home. The whole world and the field of education was forced to change drastically, and from the school environment, where pupils and teachers work together in one physical classroom, we had to change to learning and teaching from home, behind an electronic device. As an Information and Communication Teacher, my task is to prepare the students to use their devices in a way to support and extend their learning. Even in my wildest dreams, I have never imagined that they would need their skills of using the technology this soon.

In the 21st century, when the technology is all around us, our pupils should know how to use their devices not only for entertainment, but for improving their knowledge and skills in different areas - to find information about a certain topic, to present in a graphic form using visual tools and most importantly, while being online to know how to keep themselves safe. Is this even possible?

We all use different devices every day and if feels absolutely natural to us - whether we are working on a project, or searching for information we need, contacting our colleagues to collaborate or simply calling our loved ones and sending them a message - we are using technology. Every aspect of our life is already connected in a certain way to the Net; even using the Internet to start the washing machine or dishwasher. But how can we teach our students that technology is a needed TOOL in our lives, rather than just a toy? My answer is by giving them a good example. This is my main aim during our ICT lessons.

I remember my first lesson with the younger students, when I asked them what we could use the tablets for. The most common answer was “To play games on them”. The kids were shocked when I told them that they would use the tablet to help them learn different things at school and at home. They looked at me with disbelief in their eyes, there was only one question - “But Why!?!”. That was the hardest lesson in my practice - to explain what they could do, how they could change the world, how they could improve their learning by tapping the different buttons; instead of spending time playing something on it without a certain purpose. I agree that technology can and should be used for entertainment and that there are some disadvantages of using our mobile devices constantly, but I believe we are all very familiar with them.

That is why I would like to focus on the advantages of its usage.

British School of Sofia is a school that teaches the children to think independently, to try new things, to find information by themselves, to be creative and to work together. All these are skills, that either are not possible or very difficult to accomplish without the help and usage of modern technology. In the past, when someone had to find information about a certain topic, they spent hours in the library, searching for the most suitable book or article. People sent letters and waited for weeks for an answer. Technology changed our world completely. New economic sectors grew. What was impossible to dream of became part of our syllabi - In a science lesson the students can research and work with the data bases of the human genome, the proteome and genetic diseases. They can use online statistical analysis or follow the information about the spread of SARS CoV-2. Now all people can easily connect with each other and discuss important issues and topics concerning our everyday life and work. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that all computers are tools and they are only useful when they help us improve our life.

There is no need of reminding us about the current situation. Most of us have already experienced working from home, but for the youngest ones, this has been for the first time. Imagine what these past four weeks would have been without the help of the computers and the tablets. How could we have done our work and how would the children have had their lessons? Would it have been even possible for them to cope with all the material they should learn at home alone, but for our help online? With the older ones, it has not been the first time they have been learning using virtual classrooms. Two years ago, our students in the IB Diploma Programme had virtual lessons with a teacher from Lebanon. In this way they were able to continue their literature lessons, experience a different point of view and use the expertise of an experienced IB teacher at a time when the IB Programme has just starting in our school. Many teachers, not only the IT teachers, use online learning platforms like Kognity, Google classroom and the multitude of resources that are available online for different learning tasks.

Not only do computers connect us, but many specialists are developing special software helping those with very little experience of a foreign language. It is proven, that using some special apps and software helps children to improve their language skills very quickly. As a simple example I can use the Apple software such as the advanced screen reader, or dictation to support people with Special Educational Needs. Without such programs their learning journey would be much harder.

There are many more examples of good practice in using technologies around the world, but I want to focus on how the pupils at British School of Sofia use it. We all were able to see that technology can improve children’s engagement in many different ways. It helps them to explore more resources than ever, to adapt to different learning styles and, of course, to make the learning process fun and entertaining. In our lessons we all help children to use the technology properly and safely. We teach them how to search the needed information and how to decide which resources are reliable and useful.

From an early age the children are guided through the whole process of recognising different usages of the iPads. They learn, in a safe environment, how to write different words and texts in Pages, how to use a programme to create a table, to transfer information from one form into another, and also to read information from different type of sources. Children from Reception to Grade 2 even learn how to create an algorithm - to write a short program so that a creature does something they want it to do. In our school, children learn to use those electronic tools in order to create a project for their classes, to present and show proof of a search, to order data. When pupils graduate from second grade, they have enough experience using all the needed educational apps and they will also feel comfortable enough to continue learning much more complex skills in their higher grades.

In this harrowing time, the moment when we are forced to learn from home, the ICT classes are essential, not only because the children need to use them every day to take part in the educational process, but also because they have to show their work to the teachers.

Here are a few examples how the pupils in Reception used their knowledge of the technology to create drawings using known shapes and patterns that they learned about in Maths.

  

 

First graders used their ICT lessons to reinforce their skills in reading and making tables and graphs/charts.

The Second graders explored the world of coding and creating algorithms. All their projects were more than successful. The children not only learned to enjoy working on their tablets, but also used their knowledge of using them in other classes.

In English lessons for example First Grade created an e-book with their work and now they can share it with their families around the world.

A first grader sent their homework done on a tablet.

 

I feel confident when saying that the pupils at British School of Sofia take the best of all lessons and feel confident in searching and using computers and tablets as part of their education. I cannot wait to see what they will be able to create when they grow up. Who knows, maybe new devices will be created and developed by one of them. The future cannot be predicted, but for sure I can say that every one of our students will become a valuable part in changing it.

Ninel Boyanova

ICT Teacher in Infant School

British School of Sofia

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