On a sunny day in July 2007 we visited Monkston Primary School. On the outside it looks like almost any other primary school, but don't be deceived as the approach taken to teaching and learning in their Year 4 classes is quite unique.
Speaking to Tom Winter, the Head Teacher at Monkston Primary School, it is clear that ICT has always been important; "ICT is seen as a core subject for Monkston Primary School. Right from the start, it's literacy, numeracy and ICT. ICT is integral to everything done at our school and takes learning to a higher level."
However, with ICT being used to enhance teaching and learning in every subject taught, what is the next step to further develop pupils' key skills? At Monkston Primary School, they investigated and implemented a pupil laptop scheme in Year 4 that would give pupils access to their own laptop, and would even be available for home use during evenings and weekends.
The need for a laptop scheme came about when it was observed that there was a "noticeable difference" between progress of pupils that had access to computers at home and those who did not. Such inequalities in access to ICT have been referred to as the 'digital divide.' To address this, Tom wanted a scheme that provided each pupil in Year 4 with home access to the same equipment. This meant every pupil would have an equal chance to support his or her class projects when working at home.
It was always important that if the first year of the scheme's launch was successful it would possible to replicate for future year groups. As such, the scheme had to have a sustainable approach to funding, and this was achieved partly by using a flexible leasing scheme from RM. Some donations were also obtained from the PTA and local business community as well as support from the e-learning foundation to get the scheme started, all in addition to monthly contributions from parents.
Looking further ahead, rolling plans have been put in place to support Monkston Primary School's strategy for ICT, covering infrastructure, software and the eventual migration to 'pure laptops' at the school.
Tom has noticed that since the scheme started almost a year ago, the Year 4 pupils have shown much more interest and motivation in their work and a general enthusiasm for school. Furthermore, using their laptops outside of school supports home involvement with pupils showing their parents the work they've been doing during the school day.
It has been an important remit of the scheme to involve parents from the very early stages through to offering regular drop-in sessions for parents once the scheme launched. Phil Webster, the Deputy Head Teacher explains how important parental engagement is to the scheme; "The pupils are naturally excited about the scheme, but you've also got to have the involvement and commitment of parents. That is the key to success." There was also a need to educate parents about related issues, such as Internet safety and providing 'Keeping up with the kids' sessions to give some basic ICT training. This ensures that parents are enthused and excited about the scheme that their children are taking part in.
Phil also teaches one of the classes in Year 4, and we asked him how the access to laptops has affected his class;
"I've noticed that all my pupils have been more motivated throughout the year, and not just in the initial phases of the scheme. This is true for every pupil, but especially for boys. The key skills that they are learning are transferable skills and can be used in new situations they may face. I can find a way that it has benefited every pupil in the class. Everyone has been affected, even if it's just improved the confidence of my SEN pupils."
The pupils are fast becoming the experts in the applications and tools they now have constantly available. This is seen in class where the pupils help each other and share the skills that they've learnt. By extending the curriculum into areas such as animation, pupils' learning objectives are being challenged as new possibilities are explored. This often means that pupils are so motivated that they work on their projects using their laptops at home, and even involve their parents and siblings.
But, what do the pupils think of the scheme? Here's a few recent comments from Year 4;
"When I get home I like showing my parents what I've done at school"
"We finished our animation last night - Dad helped me"
"My laptop is there when I need it - I use it much more now"
So why did Monkston Primary School choose to partner with RM and use RM Mobile Ones for the scheme? Tom says "We chose RM for the scheme, as there isn't a product to match. They offered the complete package for our pupils, such as pre-installed software and were competitive."
In the past the school has had poor experiences with other laptops that were not robust enough for a primary school environment. Tom explains that they were looking for a solution that was more suitable; "We needed something with reliable battery life and robust enough to meet the needs of our classrooms."
Is Tom happy with his choice of laptop? It sounds like it, as he says, "the RM Mobile Ones are extremely robust; the rubber bumper makes the real difference. Its robustness outweighs its weight, especially for home use. RM's insurance is also important to us, especially as there's no excess to pay. It's very reasonable for the lifetime of the equipment"
Based on the success of the scheme in the current Year 4, Tom and Phil plan to extend the scheme in the next school year for the new Year 4 group. In addition, in the next few months Monkston Primary School will be implementing the RM Learning Platform to allow pupils to easily access and submit work as well as provide access to information for parents and the wider community access.
Of course, they have the experiences and lessons learnt from this year to help ensure that implementation is smooth and look at further improving the scheme in the future.
With special thanks to Tom Winter, Phil Webster and the Year 4 pupils at Monkston Primary School.
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