For students at Quakers Hill Public School, studying earth’s evolution and its natural resources has always been a challenging topic. But their journey into the past has been facilitated by the Intel® Teach Essentials Course, a program that helps teachers integrate technology such as the internet in to the classroom in a way that promotes creative and critical thinking among students.
Founded in 1912, Quakers Hill, on the outskirts of Sydney’s west, is one of the area’s oldest schools. It has grown rapidly from three teachers in the late 1960's to a large, well-established school catering to the needs of 650 students.
Quakers Hill’s assistant principal and teacher-librarian Jenny McCarron, and assistant principal Sakuna Pho were two of the first to use the Intel Teach Essentials Course.
McCarron said, “Quakers Hill previously used programs that brought teachers up to speed on technology such as the internet, spreadsheets and multimedia presentations, and the Essentials Course provides additional supports on how to enhance student learning by integrating technology into the classroom.”
Upon completion of the master trainer course under the program, McCarron and Pho became certified to train teachers at Quakers Hill on how to integrate technology into their classrooms. They immediately advertised the program and received responses from 20 teachers who wanted to participate. Training was conducted in the school library over four months, combining time during day releases and after school sessions. The sessions were well attended and had a very high completion rate.
Gail Oakman, who has recently moved on from her position as Quakers Hill’s teacher for gifted and talented students, was one of the first participants.
Oakman said, "Part of the program involves choosing what’s called an ‘essential question’ – an overarching question that is quite broad and gives students the freedom to explore and to conduct research in many different ways. I came up with the essential question of ‘how has earth changed and survived?’ The question was chosen due to its relevance to the science and technology outcomes as set by the NSW Board of Studies."
Oakman continued, “The overall aim of the project was for the children to recognise earth as the source of most materials and to describe natural and human phenomena and processes that form and change the earth over time.”
The unit was designed so every task involved using some form of technology. The students developed a brochure, multimedia presentation, flyer, web page, database and a spreadsheet.
Oakman went on to say, "The students were required to conduct their own independent research in order to complete the project. While I was confident in conducting my own research, the Essentials Course provided support on the teaching of research skills, including how to refine internet searches, setting research parameters, outlining copyright laws and the need and reason for bibliographies.
The idea that information acquired from the Internet should be thoroughly checked for authenticity was a revelation for the children. It had not occurred to them before that information online may be incorrect.
Students found webpage design to be particularly motivational. The computer became the tool by which students not only could access information, but a creative and innovative means of presenting work.
While it was an interesting topic in itself, I believe the biggest impact came from the challenge of learning the new skills on the computer. Every child was totally involved in the work – the computer seemed to meet the needs of even the most reluctant learner."
According to Oakman, "The children were very enthusiastic about the opportunity to include computers as part of their lessons. They were particularly keen to learn how to make hyperlinks both within a multimedia presentation, as well as direct links to the internet. Importing graphics and movie clips from the internet also enhanced their presentations.
This particular science and technology unit has always been an area of study that has proved interesting to students, but the use of technology has lifted the level of thinking for the children. Since the essential question looks like the ‘big picture’, it requires the children to think more divergently.
The essential question also ensures children are not only looking at the content, but are analysing exactly what they are researching. In other words, they are using and acquiring knowledge, which encourages critical thinking and creativity.
Of course, the added bonus is that they are also gaining valuable skills on using the computer in a multitude of ways. The kind of skills that will be invaluable no matter what vocation they choose later on in life."