A Case Study with Ballyclare High School

We spoke to Gareth Shaw about the theory and practice of what he does at his school, and how he’s encouraged students and other staff to adopt his methods.

Gareth Shaw may be familiar to those who follow Intel Education on social media. He’s one of our Visionaries, and has long championed the use of technology in his geography classroom at Ballyclare High School, Northern Ireland. In fact, the school has won a raft of national and international awards for its use of IT.

INTEL: What have you been working on recently in the classroom?

GARETH: The Intel Education Visionaries program provided an opportunity to borrow some 2-in-1 devices from Intel to trial in a classroom setting, and I was able to secure 26 for the school. Right now we have around 360 devices in the school for 1,200 students, and that covers laptops, desktops and 2-in-1s. It’s a ratio of about four students to one device, but in an ideal world we’d have enough money for one-to-one.

Students have been using the 2-in-1s in PE, for example, to record video of sports activities in tablet mode, then take this footage back into class and write up reports in laptop mode. In geography, we’ve taken them on field trips to log data in real time in spreadsheets. That’s great because the students can get feedback straight away. They can go to different parts of a river, enter water speeds at different parts, and build a graph in real-time as they collect and input the information, rather than only getting this once they’re back in the classroom.

A big improvement we’ve seen with the 2-in-1 devices has been the instant-on functionality. It’s really important for classroom management. When you’ve got to get 32 students settled to work on a project, and devices are taking five minutes to boot up, it’s very difficult to manage as a teacher.

And because those devices get shared between classes, we’re big users of the cloud. We use Google Docs and Office365 so students have access to their files wherever they are and on any device, and our IT provider supplies those with one username to sign on to both of those services. It allows us to overcome barriers of not having one device for each student and takes away a lot of the headaches of distributing and saving work for everyone – teachers and learners.

I know you were singing the praises of Minecraft at our stand at Bett in 2016. How do you use it in the classroom?

I’m a big advocate of games like Minecraft. We use it for geography, maths, english, RE, ICT. In English, students can use it to build out scenes from books. In geography we can try to model different scenarios, like under what conditions a river will flood. I can set up a template, then give different groups different tools to build flood defences. Then we get rain to fall to see what works and what doesn’t. Traditionally, this kinaesthetic learning where kids learn by doing and making requires material and money. Now we can do it via Minecraft. It takes out the hassle and it’s more efficient.

It’s great for higher-order skills too. Getting kids to evaluate their own work and their peers’ can be really hard to organise in a traditional classroom. But using Minecraft, it’s so easy for a teacher to manage. Kids can hit a button and record their voiceover as they go over another student’s flood defence system. It used to take a week, now it takes an hour.

Is there a particular age group that you use this with?

In the past I wouldn’t use Minecraft for a GCSE or A-level group, just because we have so much content to cover in those courses, and we don’t have the luxury of time for these types of “cooler” activities. But that’s a difficult mind-set. As of last year, I’ve tried to make sure they do get exposed to Twitter.

Google Cardboard is a good example of that. I’m starting to use that for case studies at GCSE and A-level. It’s a step up from Google Street View, where we could look around different environments, because students can literally look around thousands of places on a very cheap device. There’s a huge community of users who’ve created things to see, and it’s changed the way I deliver case studies.

Where do you get your inspiration, and how to you look to inspire your colleagues?

Like most teachers, I use websites like TES, Pinterest and Twitter, but sometimes I might just sit down with a template in my mind about how I could improve a class through technology. I have Bloom’s taxonomy in my head, so I know what will help trigger deeper learning amongst pupils like teaching each other, or evaluating each other’s work.

Because I do staff training in IT, I might then show them how I used, say, Minecraft in the classroom and what benefits that brought. So I could give feedback from pupils, or show exam results to sell it to rest of the faculty. And I explain that my role in the classroom completely changes to be a facilitator for learning.

But I also take ideas from students. I saw that some of my students were using an app at lunchtimes that’s based on Street View where you get dropped, and have to identify where you are, the closer you are the higher your score. So it gamifies the experience. When you see that kids are really buzzing about something like that, I have to see how I can incorporate it into a lesson or a project to enhance teaching and learning.

The list of awards you’ve won is quite impressive.

It’s great to know that we’re recognised for what we do. I apply for a lot of awards, not just to win them, but because I see the value of benchmarking ourselves against external criteria. It’s one thing to say that we use ICT, and that it makes an impact, but it’s another thing to be able to evaluate or measure its success. 

So for example we’ve been using online surveys with staff, pupils, and parents for the last 10 years. I have all this data, confirming that we’re moving in the right direction, and I gather that to use for awards.

Find out more from Gareth, in person, at Bett 2017 - Intel stand

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