As part of the Fronter Leading Practitioners’ Group in Surrey, I was asked to devise a project that used Fronter to enhance and progress children’s learning.
I decided to use the 2012 Olympics as the context in which various Fronter tools could be utilised collaboratively, amongst Surrey teachers and pupils.
Initially, my idea was to create a room where all the countries and sports of the Olympics could be represented, and also where we could use the Elluminate tool to host a video conference Question and Answer session with an Olympian. I shared my ideas with a small group of interested teachers from Surrey primary schools who were enthusiastic, and the project kicked off with an email to the entire list of Surrey Fronter primary school contacts asking them if they would like to participate. I asked all schools to create a country page in the Olympic room, including information on different aspects of that country, such as its geography, history, language, culture and so on. In doing this, I felt that each school had a stake in the room and the project, using Fronter tools with which they were already familiar, whilst at the same time building up a useful resource for all to use.
My hunch was right, and lots of schools signed up to join in. To date, we have 19 countries represented in the room, and as this project does not have an actual end date, I can see more country pages being added over the new few years. At this stage, I must also mention 4S Babcock whose support in maintaining the room has been invaluable, and without whose help in raising the room’s Fronter hierarchical location so that all schools can see it, and also in providing some of the content for the room and general technical help, the project could and would not become the success it currently is.
The first video conference Question and Answer session was organised in November at Wray Common Primary School. In preparation for the day, in addition to ensuring that the athlete was booked and paid for, I also had to find out how Elluminate worked. As in many new endeavours, it is often the technological aspects that are tricky. I tried it out myself initially and wrote some notes detailing how to set the computer up to use it successfully which I posted in the Olympic room. Then I arranged a trial run of the software, and invited interested schools to join in. (As an aside, it is worth noting that Fronter agreed to ‘unlock’ Elluminate’s multi-user video facility for both the trials and the actual Q & A session, and were happy to do so for the rest of the year to enable the project to continue.)
Our first trial run at video conferencing was interesting, with many aspects of the software becoming immediately obvious during use, and as a result, a number of us collaborated on a set of procedures to be followed when using Elluminate in this way. These procedures were added to the Olympics room, providing a useful resource for new schools entering the project.
We also used the room as a showcase for the athlete – Adam Whitehead, a Commonwealth medal winning swimmer – and provided a forum where the schools could post several questions for the session. In most schools, 3 or 4 questions were picked from the children’s suggestions. I also included a forum where teachers could register their school’s participation. The day before the video conference I made a running order of the questions and emailed it out to all participating schools. On the day itself, Adam presented an assembly to our whole school and led some sporting activities with several year groups, before being interviewed in front of our Year 3 and Year 4 children for the video conference. http://sandrafine.edublogs.org/2011/12/13/our-first-olympian/
Although this was our first attempt and fairly nerve racking to run, the session passed smoothly enough, and the children, Adam and the teachers at Wray Common thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The other schools who had managed to link in, also found it a positive experience with the children picked to ask the questions delighted to see and hear themselves on the big screen, and even more delighted to get their questions answered on the spot.
After the session ended, Adam stayed behind to answer all the questions that didn’t not get asked on air, and these were posted into the Olympic room for everyone to see.
Valuable technical lessons that were learned during the conference, largely to do with audio and video feeds, and running orders, were added to the growing set of procedures that we had been building up in the trial runs. In particular, in the weeks following the conference we were also able to sort out why some schools had had problems accessing the session. At this end of the year, I am reasonably confident that the vast majority of schools would now be able to set up their computers to use the Elluminate tool to video conference with other schools. An extra educational feature of Elluminate, not found on Skype (an obvious alternative) is the presence of a whiteboard which can be used as in class and instantaneously shared with all other participants.
Following on from Adam’s Q & A we had several more athletes hosted by different schools – Rachel Ennis, rhythmic gymnastics, Vicki Hansford, adaptive rowing, Amanda Parker, synchronised trampolining and Andy Turner, 110m hurdles. Each athlete was a great success, both in their host school and in conference with other schools. All in all, 24 schools have taken part in the conferencing, with between 5 and 11 schools attending each sessions. In terms of numbers of children who experienced the sessions, it is more difficult to pin down. However, most teachers have been displaying the video and audio feeds to at least 2 classes, with some running the session in the school hall with all the children in the school taking part. It has also been a success across the year groups with all children in the primary age range attending, from Reception up to Year 6 classes.
Although our question and answer sessions have slowed down in the second half of the summer term, the Olympics room is still going strong with two further focuses – the Inter School Challenges, and Olympic Celebrations. Continuing with the collaboration theme, the inter school challenges were a suggestion from St Dunstans School. As part of the Olympics project, they are games that can be played by any age group in any primary school, and are set up by Year 6 children in different schools – with the rules described via a photostory or a video – and posted into the room. Attached to each game is a score sheet. The idea is that a school chooses a game to play, follows the published rules and fills out the scores on the score sheet and resubmits the sheet back into the room to build up a raw data resource for use in the future when teaching data handling and so on. A second focus, the Olympic Celebration part of the room, is an area we want to develop with pictures and videos of events, stunts and activities that the different schools undertake in the run up to the Olympics. We will publish these in the room along with a marker locating the school on a collaborative Google map of Surrey Schools, and hopefully build up a picture of who did what, where.
So far, so amazing! However, it isn’t over yet. In fact, at one of our meetings (which by the way are open to all interested Surrey schools with access to Fronter) one enthusiastic teacher was wondering what we could do next year to keep the momentum going…
Looking back over the year, there have been many successes, not least the very real opportunity for the children to meet and listen to the dreams, aspirations and sheer determination of the some of the best athletes in the country, and, of course, we have found interesting and rewarding ways in which to use our joint Learning Platform. For me, however, the best aspect about the project has been, and continues to be, the enthusiasm and creativity of the teachers involved. It has been my extreme privilege to work with these people and to learn from them, and I really hope that we can make the project continue in the new academic year.