MR JENKYN’S blackboards were the best in our school. Very neat, boldly coloured, they progressed us with relentless logic though the form 5 economics syllabus. Headings (red chalk), sub headings (blue), dot points (white), yellow boxes denoting special points. Those blackboards contained everything we needed to know. They kept us safe.
So impressed was I with Mr Jenkyn’s blackboards that years after I began teaching and learnt more about how we do and don’t learn, deep inside me they remained the ultimate measure of excellence. Learning was telling, in colour.
So I don’t envy the teachers of today who are challenged in ways that we never were to be better, more open, more vulnerable, more willing to keep up with the hectic pace of change, more abreast of the bewildering range of programs on offer. But I do envy the students who learn with them.
Take Bass Valley Primary School, for example.
At the end of Term 2 this year, years 5 and 6 information and technology teacher Fiona Nicholls and four students went to Moe for an introduction to the Generation YES program. GenYES is a program that exploits children’s fantastic technological abilities. It encourages students to work alongside their teachers as technology leaders, collaborators and mentors and supports them as they talk about ways of working together. It sees students as agents rather than objects of change.
Chosen for their communication and technical skills, the students sat with Fiona and discussed what help their teachers might need and how they might be able to help other students: the first steps in an ongoing process of collaboration and problem-solving.
Left to do their own research for a while ─ “We mucked around to see what other websites we could find,” Cade says ─ they caught a glimpse of some of the exciting on-line programs the school had yet to tap into. They knew EduSTAR, Victoria’s on-line project-based curriculum with its main categories – literacy, science, maths, etc – but were impressed by all the sub-categories within them. They were fascinated to discover Stellarium, an interactive program that guided them through an awe-inspiring experience of stars and planets.
“When we came back to school we got into our group to work out ideas,” Cade explains. “Then we went to different classes to find out what they wanted to learn.” That first foray into the classrooms was an eye-opener.
“It was kind of interesting because you’d think that teachers would know about computers but they didn’t know as much as we do,” confides Cade. In one class Miss Hodgson wanted to learn more about the ultranet. And Ms Anderson’s interactive whiteboard wasn’t working. “Us three found out how to get a grid. We showed her how to do it.”
I nod sagely and feel for Ms Anderson whose interactive board wasn’t working.
Small fingers fly around the keyboard as they bring up examples of their work. Recently the group installed a small digital microscope in 20 computers, microscopes that are used to identify small bugs found in the school wetlands. And they’ve started a lunchtime club on Thursdays for junior classes in which they use a stick figure animation program called Pivot.
“I really like lunchtime clubs,” Jack says. “It’s fun watching the little kids learn.”
“I never miss school on Thursdays,” Cade says. “I like watching them muck around with computers.” Even the basics, apparently, like making sure everyone shuts down the computers properly.
“There’s a little girl, Hayley,” Cade goes on. “She’s always saying: ‘I haven’t learnt enough, I think I’ll come back next week’. She’s waiting at the door on Wednesday. You have to tell her it’s not on.”
Claymation is big too. The boys explain about the little animated pieces made of plasticine clay, the hooking up of a webcam to the computer, the green box in which you build your set. When you’ve taken photos of the whole story you go into your Windows Live Movie Maker program and insert photos into the program. They’ve learnt why you need to move your figures in such small increments. It’s one photo every 25 milliseconds,” Jack says. “You have to work horribly hard to make all the pictures you need for a movie.”
There’s a certain grandeur of vision about their movies. Cade’s movie, How to Bake a Cake, ends as the cake explodes all over the set. Stunt Drivers, made last term by Jack and his friend Tyler, involves a lot of car smashes at a dirt rally track and a violent explosion of colour as all the cars blow up. “We used cellophane and tinsel, and moved them closer to the camera in each frame.”
Fiona Nicholls says this injection of student IT knowledge has given the school a real boost. “Identifying them as the tech experts gives them a real enthusiasm for going into other classes.”
More technology is being introduced into classrooms in creative ways, she says. “In our recording studio, we have equipment installed so we can make podcasts. At the last GenYES meeting the children were discussing what they needed to learn themselves and how they might go about teaching the technology to teachers and students.”
Jack has his own point of view. “Ever since we went to Moe there’s been a big change. Having the privilege that you get ... You get to do a lot of other things, run the lunchtime classes, helping other classes with claymation ...”
“I’ve got better at making movies,” Cade says. “I’ve found out a lot more on other websites. I always wanted to be a policeman. Now I want to be a film director.”
I wonder at their quiet confidence. It’s the air. The pure oxygen of having room to grow, to exercise judgement, to enjoy respect. And there’s not a blackboard in sight.
October 24, 2013
Thank you to Gill Heal. What a great article which shows the way that children can lead the way in the school place and written with so much sensitivity and empathy. The article put a smile on my face for days.
Joy Button, Coronet Bay