Technology plays a key role in helping Ormiston Primary students to build digital skills that prepare them for secondary school and future careers. “We’re quite a forward-looking school in terms of our ICT, and we’re always looking for ways to meet students’ needs,” says Kirsty Dunn, a class teacher at Ormiston Primary.
The school has received positive reports from Education Scotland that show its progress. However, school leaders recognised that the slow, aging Windows laptops that they were using presented a barrier to teaching and learning. “While we’re doing well as a school, we wanted to keep on track with the good progress we’ve been making,” Dunn says. “But our computers were not matching the expectations of our curriculum. It was a big barrier just to even get them started up.”
The slow boot-up times frustrated teachers who didn’t want to lose precious minutes of classroom time that should be devoted to teaching and learning. The sluggish laptops also bothered students. “Most of them are used to fast devices in their daily lives, so they couldn’t understand why the laptops didn’t function the way they expected them to,” says Dunn.
What’s more, there weren’t enough of the laptops to go around. “Because of budget constraints, it was difficult to provide an appropriate number of devices,” Dunn says. Each laptop was shared by about four pupils, limiting their use of online tools.
The local education authority’s IT department centrally managed the laptops, which were configured with a preset suite of applications. This limited teachers’ choices of apps that would add creative approaches to lesson presentation, or help pupils who had learning challenges to grasp new concepts and test their comprehension skills.
Like many schools in Scotland, Ormiston Primary focuses on reducing inequalities in student learning. “We need to meet the needs of all learners,” says class teacher Kirsty Dunn. “We want to close gaps between different groups of students so we can ensure equity.” To meet their learning needs, some students had to use different software, or portable devices that assisted in spelling or in converting speech to text. The additional software and devices had to be ordered from the education authority—and had the effect of setting the students with learning difficulties apart from fellow pupils.
In 2012, Ormiston Primary began using G Suite, in part to offer Gmail addresses to teachers and pupils following a delay in the rollout of Glow, the Scotland-wide digital learning platform. “We were using a bit of G Suite, but not robustly,” Dunn says. When the East Lothian Council decided to increase students’ access to computers, the school received a set of 24 Chromebooks—one for each of the upper year classrooms—teachers began to experiment in earnest with G Suite and apps.
Initially, the Windows laptops were used in tandem with the new Chromebooks. However, school leaders realised the Chromebooks were easier and more intuitive for teachers and students to use, offered more security than the Windows operating system, and offered more creative apps to deploy in the classroom. In addition, the lower price of the Chromebooks allowed Ormiston Primary to purchase more devices and retire the Windows laptops. As of 2018, the school has 100 Chromebooks, roughly one for every two students.
Ormiston Primary is also using Google Classroom, primarily to allow teachers to communicate with pupils in place of traditional diaries. Classroom started within one class in Ormiston Primary and expanded it throughout the school due to positive feedback from pupils.
Giving pupils confidence and autonomy
Ormiston Primary pupils use peer assessment when they work on projects—a process facilitated by G Suite tools like Google Docs. “When students first discovered they could work on each others’ documents and see what other students were typing, they became very excited,” Dunn says. “They will regularly edit and redraft written work based on comments from other students, and respond to feedback. It creates an ongoing dialogue around their work, which has been very powerful.” The result, Dunn says, is that students recognize the importance of editing and revisiting their work, with input from classmates: “They now realize that their first drafts are not final.”
The ability to own their documents with Google Docs, and control who can comment on them, is empowering for students, says Dunn. “It’s also helps them to build confidence,” she adds, especially since feedback can be given anonymously. “For pupils who are nervous about commenting on their peers’ work face to face, the Google Docs comments give them another way to participate in peer assessment, and give constructive criticism.”
“For pupils who are nervous about commenting on their peers’ work face to face, the Google Docs comments give them another way to participate in peer assessment.”Kirsty Dunn, Class Teacher, Ormiston Primary
Expanding accessibility options
Instead of being limited to applications installed by the local education authority, teachers can choose apps, or change the way in which pupils use apps built on the Chrome OS. “We have much more flexibility to adapt to learners and their needs—or allow pupils to choose tools for themselves. That’s very empowering for children.” For examples, teachers can help pupils managing dyslexia to choose Chrome extensions that add colour overlays or change fonts for easier reading. “Pupils can use the same laptops as their peers, but just slightly customised,” Dunn says.
Exploring creative approaches
With options beyond pencil and paper, pupils can explore creative approaches to lesson completion. One creative writing project named #projectstarfall involved pupils documenting a supposed alien landing in Ormiston. The pupils built a Google Site to share the news about the “alien invasion”—including students’ audio interview with an American UFO hunter discussing what to do if the aliens attacked, and news articles about possible alien sightings around the village.
“It’s now common for teachers to ask children how they want to share what they’ve learned,” Dunn says. “They choose their tools.” With a broader range of tools for students to choose from to express their knowledge, students can creatively focus on what they’ve learned. “The lesson becomes about the learning itself, and not about which technology students choose,” Dunn says.
For assemblies during which topics such as kindness and support are discussed, pupils use Google Forms to survey their classmates about whether their peers have been kind to each other. The weekly surveys are displayed on screens so students can see results. If scores are low, student leaders discuss steps that they can take in order to support each other.
“We wanted the surveys to be anonymous when we share the results with the whole school so that people felt that they could answer honestly, and we can check who needs our support,” says one of the leaders. For example, if a student is feeling lonely, fellow students might help that student take advantage of peer mediation.
“The surveys are very powerful tools in terms of supporting the school ethos—and students run the surveys completely on their own,” Dunn says. “The nice thing about using Chromebooks and G Suite is that using the tools has become organic—they’re simply part of daily learning.” Taken together, G Suite, Chromebooks, and the Chromebook Tab 10 have created an environment of exploration and creativity that wasn't possible with the old devices. “Students are now keen to explore the subjects they’re learning and to share what they've learned with each other, and that’s something we can now give them time to do,” Dunn says. “The biggest impact on learning has been the ability to collaborate.”
At a Glance
What they wanted to do
- Improve technology to meet demands of curriculum
- Expand access to devices and apps
- Provide teachers with more control over apps and tools
What they did
- Replaced Windows laptops with Chromebooks and G Suite
- Replaced pupil diaries with Google Classroom
- Adopted Acer Chromebook Tab 10 for younger primary years
What they accomplished
- Boosted the confidence students had to choose their preferred tools for learning
- Adapted technology to needs of children with learning challenges
- Inspired creative approaches to demonstrating learning