It’s nearly been a year of Innovative Teachers in Torfaen and I though it’s just the right time to blog about our past experiences and successes.
How and Why we started!
It all began when Torfaen LEA in collaboration with Microsoft ITN asked me to put together a community of Innovative Teachers from the Secondary Schools in Torfaen in November 2008, as if that were an easy task. While I was driving back from the Innovative Teachers Network Specialists meeting, a vision came to me! I was determined to get our learners in Torfaen to have a say and a major input in the work of our community. I had to start somewhere, so I surveyed all pupils in my school (Croesyceiliog School, Cwmbran) and asked them what makes a good lesson and how they use technology in their learning. Then, I invited one to two teachers from each school in Torfaen and two of their pupils to attend our first Torfaen Innovative Teachers training day. The day opened with the video survey of our pupils and that formed the foundation of our work. In fact, the pupils invited from schools around Torfaen would become our Software Experts.
I wanted to ensure the learners’ views, expectations and interests would shape the work we set out to complete. So, after watching the video, I demonstrated some new technologies that can be used in the classroom. Software like Photo Story 3, Deep Zoom, Photosynth and OneNote (which would become a great asset for two of our projects). Then, each teacher worked with the pupils they brought along to plan and implement a series of lessons that would exploit the potentials of such technologies in education. As teachers, we all agreed that the input of our pupils exceeded our expectations and that many great ideas they came up with we would have not thought about ourselves.
As I mentioned above, the pupils that helped us planning our series of lessons also delivered the lessons and became our Software Experts. The idea was that these pupils would have been able to assist their peers during the series of lessons and potentially other less ICT literate teachers who wanted to use the same software we explored. And it worked very well, because it was a great opportunity for our pupils to develop their ICT skills, their confidence and interdependence. They also had great fun in developing and delivering their work!
Our Virtual Classroom Tours
All the projects run with the help of our pupils where developed into VCTs and submitted to the U.K. Innovative Teachers Forum 2009. We were hoping to get at least one in the top ten, but we were thrilled to hear we had two. James Allan from West Monmouth School (Pontypool) submitted a great VCT on the “House of the Future” where his pupils created cardboard houses to describe the energy saving features of the house of the future. Then, they used Photo Story and Photosynth to present their work to their peers.
Another excellent project was submitted by James Kent, Croesyceiliog School (Cwmbran). His pupils used OneNote 2007 to create a revision booklet on the effects of the Asian Tsunami. The innovation in this project was the collaborative nature of the booklet. In fact, the class was divided into different groups that would focus on different aspects of the Tsunami. As they all worked on the same OneNote notebook, the final product was a revision guide made with the contribution of the whole class.
Projects like this really maximise the power of amazing software like OneNote 2007 and provide a great example of how such tools can be used to enhance the Teaching and Learning experience of our learners and educators! I was not surprised when I heard James was also invited to the European Innovative Teachers Forum 2009 in Vienna.Unfortunately, his journey ended there (but very close to the finalists, I’m sure), but the Judges complimented Torfaen on our Pupils’ Voice approach and the idea of using Software Experts to team plan and deliver lessons in the classroom.Our ImpactAfter the ITFs, we showed our work and the potential of our approach to our colleagues. Quite a few began to use similar approaches in their lessons and that encouraged us to continue to promote the Torfaen Innovative Teachers Community. With the new academic year beginning this Thursday, we are excited and motivated to begin a new round of VCTs for this year’s ITF and we are even more thrilled as I will begin a Peer Coaching Programme that will hopefully encourage more teachers in Torfaen to join the community, try new and innovative approaches and reap the benefits of their efforts.Alessio.