Delivering a rich STEM curriculum with edtech
A bit of background
Willowtown Community Primary School is based in Ebbw Vale, South Wales. The school facilitates learning for children from the ages of 3 to 11, purpose built in January 2007 to provide a modern learning environment for the children of Ebbw Vale. Unfortunately, due to budget restraints the school had not benefitted from any upgrade initiatives since the initial build, particularly in terms of educational technology.
The classrooms were originally fitted with interactive whiteboard and projector set ups. The equipment was deteriorating and the cost of frequently replacing the projector lamps was becoming unsustainable. When Headteacher Paul Keane started at Willowtown Primary, he identified that the failing technology in the school was a cause for concern and that action needed to be taken.
Paul has been at Willowtown Primary for three years since relocating to South Wales from London. The move from a school in an affluent area of London to a more deprived area in South Wales was a big change for Paul, but a challenge that he was really excited about.
“Moving from my previous school in London, to Willowtown Primary here in Ebbw Vale, has been a really positive experience for me. It’s fantastic to be part of a school where we are really pushing boundaries and working our hardest with the resources we have to strive for improvement and success. One of the notable differences between the two schools was the age of the technology at Willowtown, something I strongly believed was holding the children back”
Paul wanted to find an education technology brand he could see longevity in working with and that offered edtech with real potential to enhance the children’s learning experience. Whilst finding the very best front of class technology was a driving principle, there had to be careful consideration to the limited school budget and an effort to find solutions that would deliver real value.
Paul had a vision to invest in edtech to modernise the school learning environment and enhance pupils’ learning opportunities and engagement in lessons, particularly with STEM subjects. When school budget and funds from a grant for literacy and numeracy became available, the school decided it would be best spent on upgrading school technology. A solution was needed that could provide a clear display at the front of classrooms which also facilitated learning through touch-screen interactivity, engaging resources and a range of STEM apps. From an ICT perspective, teachers wanted front of class technology that could be used independently without having to be connected to a computer or laptop.
To explore the available options, the school arranged demonstrations and trials from three different brands. Having had great past experiences with Promethean at his previous school, Paul felt it was important to include Promethean in the procurement process. The school trialled a Promethean ActivPanel for an entire week so that they could really get an understanding of its features and how it could enhance lessons. The ActivPanel was positioned in the school corridor so that parents could see it as well as the teachers and pupils.
Following the demonstration and trial period, Paul received excellent feedback from pupils, staff and parents. Willowtown Primary chose the Promethean ActivPanel as their preferred front of class display and Paul liaised with a local Promethean partner to identify a solution that would best accommodate all of the school’s criteria.
Why the ActivPanel?
The ActivPanel supports the interactivity and engagement Willowtown Primary were looking for through the multi-touch technology on the high-resolution display. The Android system allows the panel to operate independently and hosts an array of apps and resources through the App Store. Teachers have a multitude of engaging STEM apps and resources available to incorporate as part of their lessons to help them demonstrate various STEM concepts.
To accommodate the school’s financial limitations, Willowtown was given the option to lease the ActivPanels over several years. This approach meant that the children at Willowtown Primary could benefit from the technology straight away and the school would not have to wait for capital expenditure budget to become available at one time.
A total of 20 ActivPanels were installed at Willowtown Primary. The 70” ActivPanel was selected to become the central learning hub in every classroom and enable the children to see the large clear display and engage with it in small groups at the front of the class. There are also ActivPanels in the ICT suite and the professional learning room which is used to support teacher development.
Liz Brain, Willowtown Primary IT Lead, said: “The installation process was fantastic, it was efficient and clean. Installation was arranged over a couple of days and Promethean came in to do an orientation session with our staff, which we all found very beneficial.
“The ActivPanel was a clear winner in terms of the clarity of the display and multi-touch response. It also proved convenient that staff could easily switch between the Android environment and their computers. As a front of class display the ActivPanel is fluid and flexible in its functionality, which is exactly what our teachers wanted in their classrooms.
“The easy navigation of the ActivInspire software on the ActivPanel makes it really user friendly, even teachers that are not as technology confident use the ActivPanel with ease. Teachers and pupils that are more confident are able to delve deeper and immerse themselves in many of its wider learning resources.”
Willowtown Primary wants to be a lead STEM school, Paul believes that giving teachers the technology to access a range of resources and deliver a rich curriculum will be a key driver in the school’s success with teaching STEM subjects.
The school is continuing to invest in the ActivPanel and finding it an asset in supporting the delivery of the STEM curriculum, one of the core ambitions Paul had when seeking new front of class technology.
“The ActivPanel has made a tremendous difference to pupil engagement and attainment in STEM subjects across the school. The level of interactivity and endless resources available have allowed teachers to transform their lessons. We are making great strides in relation to the delivery of the STEM curriculum. Having fantastic technology coupled with teachers who are really trying to innovate and be creative with their lessons has unlocked so much potential,” added Paul.
Pupils across the school have been using apps such as ‘Scratch’ to enhance their knowledge of coding and are excited to be attending a coding competition in the city of Swansea to put their skills to the test. Interactive coding activities on the ActivPanel have allowed pupils to practise as a whole class.
Teachers have recently received training using ‘Makers Empire’ 3D printing. The software is compatible with the ActivPanel and is allowing pupils to complete the design work collaboratively at the front of the class. The display and excellent touch precision are ideal for navigation of the software and placement of the tiny blocks that make up 3D structures such as honeycombs, snakes and flowers.
Younger pupils enjoy using the ‘Explorify’ website to look at high resolution images and videos. The touch functionality of the ActivPanel combined with the HD display allows pupils to zoom in on images and participate in activities which examine fine detail such as scales on fish in science lessons, for example.
“The ActivPanel has transformed classrooms here at Willowtown Primary and added a new dimension to teaching. The ActivPanel has modernised classrooms and considerably improved our delivery of the STEM curriculum from both a teaching and learning perspective,” concluded Paul.
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