Q&A with Stephen Hawke, Assistant Head and ICT Coordinator at Grafton Primary School, Dagenham
Grafton Primary School is a large four form primary in Dagenham, a suburb of East London, with approximately 950 students between Nursery and Year 6 on the roll. Although the school is in the top percentile for deprivation the teaching and managerial staff have created a well organised, positive and safe learning environment for the children, who are flourishing under their care.
Committed to the introduction and improvement of ICT within the school, Stephen Hawke, Assistant Head and ICT Coordinator at Grafton began overhauling the school’s IT resources two years ago shortly after joining the school. Impressed with new software and apps that can enhance children’s learning experiences in line with the curriculum, Stephen worked with IT specialist Computer Talk to upgrade the school’s server and install new PCs, robust interactive front-of-class touchscreens and iPads into the classrooms.
Clevertouch talked to Stephen recently about ICT at Grafton and how it has changed since he joined the school in 2012.
Why is good ICT so important in schools?
Because society relies so heavily on instant connectivity these days, schools have a responsibility to prepare children for the future and ensure that they have the necessary skills to join a digital workforce when the time comes.
What technology do you have in the classrooms?
The classrooms at Grafton Primary School have PCs running Windows 7, which are used with Clevertouch 84” interactive touchscreens at the front of the class. We also have a few 70”, 65” and 55” screens in the library and break out spaces. The students also have iPads and the school uses a variety of software and apps on both the front-of-class screens and the iPads.
In addition to the classroom technology we have an ICT suite for specific ICT lessons and our code club, which takes place before school on a Tuesday morning and is very popular with our older students.
How do the children at Grafton surprise you?
When it comes to IT, the children here surprise me in a number of ways. Often as an adult we expect children to use things in a specific way because that’s what we do. Children pick a new device up and engage with it in their own way, they don’t need to be taught and navigate technology intuitively, coming up with their own solutions and uses.
How hard was it to roll all the new technology out?
We worked with a company called Computer Talk to upgrade our server to a dual hosted solution running on Microsoft Server 2012. They managed the installation of the new computers and screens and working around our schedule to make sure everything was working.
What was it like when the children got to use the touchscreen for the first time?
Their faces light up when they use them. It was amazing seeing them run in to class the morning after the Clevertouch screens had been installed saying “have you seen our screen, have you seen our screen?” They were really excited.
How has the touchscreen helped the staff to lesson plan?
Quite often the Clevertouch screens will be the starting point of a lesson plan. The teachers often look at the ways in which they can get the children to interact with the screens as part of the lesson to make it more interesting and engaging so that the children can access learning in a more stimulating way.
Has technology improved or enhanced the learning experience of kids with learning difficulties?
I think the technology in the classroom has improved the learning experience of the children across all abilities. For example, teachers can set different levels on the apps that the children are working with on their iPads without it being obvious to their peers.
Clevertouch screens work with the software Snowflake and Lynx, which enables teachers to change the background colours on the screen – great for dyslexic children. Snowflake also enables you to split screens so that children can work side by side or collaborate on work together.
The early-years team use the Clevertouch screens, iPads and other resources such as recording devices to help children thoroughly explore words so that they really know them inside out.
Ultimately, technology helps the children to access and engage on a more sensory level, which makes it more enjoyable and it helps information to penetrate.
What’s the main difference in the classroom since bringing in interactive touchscreens and iPads (eg more collaborative, interactive)?
One of the benefits of introducing iPads and the 84” interactive Clevertouch touchscreens into the classrooms at Grafton is that they have directed learning back to the front of the class and encouraged greater interactivity between teachers and pupils. Before we had Clevertouch screens we had projectors with visualizers, which often shadowed and required greater attention and input from teachers, keeping them behind the desk rather than in front of the children.
The old projectors would over-heat often and weren’t as robust as our new Clevertouch screens, which have been made for education and can withstand hard knocks. If the old visualizers were knocked or bashed by accident you had to recalibrate everything, which took time away from teaching and the pace of learning.
Has classroom technology assisted with the assessment process?
The Clevertouch screens and iPads have improved the efficiency of the assessment process in Early Years, where the teachers use the 2Build a Profile app from 2Simple to capture observations on the move.
Every teacher has an iPad which allows them to make informal observations and record oral and visual work by taking photos and videos of the children. These can then be used as evidence for Ofsted and provide a great showcase for parents to actually see what the children have been doing in lessons.
Clevertouch had the robustness behind screen, they had the software and now they have apps that are scaled for large screens. Clevertouch haven’t just built a good presentation touchscreen, they’ve built a screen for education and the software reflects that because it’s so easy to use and adaptable.
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
The best part of my job is that I’ve had a positive impact on the 950 children that attend this school through our improved ICT – not just the children in my class.
Is it a good time to be working in education?
It’s a very exciting time in education at the moment, the technology is really pulling things together to enhance the learning experience in schools. When I first started teaching you had your Smart boards and could perform basic functions like writing on them, watching videos and moving a few shapes around but not to any degree of quality. Now we have 84” 1080 P HD touchscreens in classrooms, which you can mirror iPads to and pull in all sorts of online resources that you just couldn’t do 5-years ago. Learning should be a fully interactive experience for both teacher and learner. Technology today makes this easier and far more exciting.