Future-focused learning at Leamington School

Issue: Volume 93, Number 22

Posted: 8 December 2014
Reference #: 1H9cs8

A belief in moving slowly but steadily, with a resolute focus on learning outcomes, has underpinned the roadmap for Leamington Primary School’s widespread adoption of digital technologies to support future-focused learning practices.

Leamington Primary School is a decile 7 school of 380 Year 1–6 students on the outskirts of Cambridge, where suburbia meets farmland. In four classes, every student brings their own iPad, and in another three classes, there’s one device for every two students. Most other classes have around one iPad for every five students.

Yet when other schools ask principal Mike Malcolm about introducing digital devices, his response is “Don’t”. Well, at least don’t until there’s been a conversation with the community, teaching team, and children, and plenty of research carried out about what’s important for children to learn.

Inspiration for change

Leamington’s current journey started in 2008 when Mike became principal. Much of his thinking was shaped by Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, which explores the characteristics of companies that go from being good to great. What those companies all had in common was a clear focus. Leamington’s leadership team and board of trustees looked at what needed to be done to make the school ‘great’.

The school’s thinking was also shaped by The New Zealand Curriculum and its vision: “Young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.”

The journey

Using the curriculum competencies, feedback from surveys of the school community, research about 21st century learning, and ideas from leadership strategies – such as the “20 mile march”, which emphasises the need for consistent steady progress – a new approach to teaching and learning in the school gradually evolved.

“Everyone was involved and ensuring that everybody – with all their different styles from creative to meticulous – could contribute was important,” says Mike.

“I wouldn’t know who created what. I also had to reflect on my own practice. Was I getting out of the way enough so that I didn’t limit staff?”

What these conversations resulted in was a clear articulation of the attributes of the ‘Leamington Learner’. Posters all around the school remind children that they are effective thinkers, technologically capable, make a difference, and are active learners and effective communicators.

Creating this common understanding took three to four years but once the ‘Leamington Learner’ concept was established, with wide buy-in from teachers, students and families, it seemed to generate a momentum of its own which continues to drive “a culture of continuous improvement”. The increasing use of digital devices became a natural next step.

Embracing digital devices

Three years ago, the school’s ICT team purchased a few iPads to try in classrooms. Teachers quickly became excited about the outcomes they were seeing for children and requested more.

In 2013, when the first 1:1 device class (i.e. a class using one iPad for each student) was introduced, parents were invited to nominate their children to go into a ballot to be part of the class. They were given two options: to provide an iPad themselves or to use a school-provided device that they took home. Children are made responsible for the care of the device which they take very seriously.

There have been no regrets with either of these strategies and demand from the community is growing rapidly. The school is choosing to resist community pressure to introduce 1:1 device use for Year 1 and 2 students so that it ensures use is pedagogically sound.

The results

A glowing 2014 ERO report described; a stimulating and calm learning environment, where even classroom walls are considered ‘teachers’; and happy, open, engaged, and learning children and teachers with a focus on device-enabled learning. Where children work and interact has changed – there’s no longer an expectation that they will sit at a desk – they can work outside, or sit on a bean bag to collaborate together. As a result, the design of classrooms and learning spaces is changing.

Guided by teachers, children are encouraged to take responsibility for their learning and to articulate their learning progressions. They understand everyone is at different stages. The school has noticed better engagement, particularly amongst boys and students with special needs, and overall children who “talk more, collaborate more, create and share”.

Evaluating the impact of devices is a priority. In a recent sabbatical, Mike investigated how teaching is changing through the use of digital devices and the subsequent impact this is having on student achievement. A partnership with the University of Waikato is also helping the school research the difference technology is making.

“While still at an early stage, the findings to date have far-reaching implications and are gaining international attention in some of the most prestigious academic forums,” Mike says.

More about this research can be found under Leamington School in a new online resource on TKI.

Lessons from Leamington

  • Have as many people as possible help to build the vision in genuinely inclusive ways if you want to create a shared vision. Support parents to support their children. For example, Leamington has ‘Parenting with iPads’ evenings.
  • Ensure device choice is driven by pedagogical vision. Determine how to evaluate whether your device use is achieving pedagogical goals, start small before investing heavily.
  • Provide professional learning opportunities for teachers to up-skill. Leamington has a 15 minute focus group every Thursday morning where teachers can share ideas, inspiration and frustration. Focus groups can also be established for particular areas.
  • Ensure your school has the necessary ICT infrastructure and connectivity to support the proposed programme.

More information

Visit Future-focused Learning Examples(external link) for more information about Leamington School and other experiences of integrating technology with teaching and learning.

Further information, resources and communities(external link) to support you in developing your school’s e-learning practice.

Schools share examples in new online resource

A new online resource for teachers on TKI examines, in detail, how schools are using digital technologies to accelerate learning and achievement in new and different ways.

Leamington and Newmarket are the first two schools to have their experiences explored in this way, with more expected to be added over time.

To help schools more easily find relevant information, examples included can be filtered by future-focused theme (as identified by the New Zealand Council of Educational Research) and/or e-Learning Planning Framework dimension (which outline the areas a school needs to cover to sustain e-capability development).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 8:19 am, 8 December 2014

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